David Taylor is managing director of Grass Roots Meetings & Events – specialists in strategic meetings management and delegate management. An industry figurehead with over 25 years’ experience, starting at Hotel Brokers International (HBI), he became sales director as they joined the Grass Roots Group. After a period of integrating GRG services with WPP in 2015 he was made managing director of the M&E division in 2016.
Why training venues increasingly make sense
When I first started working in the industry neither residential nor non-residential training centres had the best of reputations. More often than not they were either bleak, purpose-built buildings in city centres or old manor houses, schools and the like, bought cheap by organisations for internal use and then given a lick of paint and little else.
Fast forward to today and training centres are largely very different animals. Now owned and operated by specialist companies, the best conference centres are of a good 4 star standard with natural daylight, excellent Wi-Fi and a wide range of onsite technology. The training rooms are ergonomically designed with blinds, modern, comfortable furniture and state of the art whiteboards, screens etc.
Training venues have the advantage of being wholly focused on the delegate experience whilst hotels have to satisfy a wide range of guests needs. Food for example at dedicated training centres is usually lighter with soups, salads, fresh bread and fruit and snacks readily available. Coffee is of the proper roasted variety, and a wide range of soft and energy drinks are offered as alternatives. Convene; operators of non-residential training centres in the US are now using gourmet chefs to actively promote the cuisine in their restaurants.
Location is critical when choosing meeting space for training with attendees wanting somewhere close to their office and easy to commute to. Companies such as etc.Venues now have a very good stock in in the city, an area where hotels have struggled to meet demand. Price-wise training centres make sound economic sense too, with rates usually around 20% cheaper than that in a similar hotel.
What’s not too like about training venues then? As with everything you still need to know the good from the bad. Surplus office space for example is regularly sold for training, but this does not usually make for the best meetings rooms. When choosing a venue you want a professional service from start to finish and I’m not overly keen on training venues where food is sourced externally. Service standards should be in line with comparable hotels and not an afterthought.
Many residential conference centres take weddings, association business and leisure bookings to supplement their trade and whilst this may make sense financially, to my mind it somewhat defeats the purpose of using a training centre in the first place. If I wanted a crowded reception, lively bar and other distractions then I would have used a hotel to start with.
Luckily though help is at hand. The specialist agent will know the training sector as well as they know their hotels and can negotiate excellent rates and terms and conditions, whilst ensuring the venue is being used exclusively for training. Our use of training centres has significantly increased each year and will account for £20 million of our spend in 2017 in the UK and overseas. The simple fact is that clients realise that conference centres now tick far more boxes than hotels when it comes to hosting training courses.
This blog also appears in Conference & Incentive Travel Magazine, November 2017