No-one can say with 100% confidence that the dark times of economic austerity are now over, but there are certainly strong indications to suggest that we are reaching the light at the end of what has been a long and gloomy tunnel.
This of course is excellent news for the event industry which, along with several other sectors, took a substantial hit during the financial crisis. The downturn of the past few years saw the all too frequent scene of heavily discounted delegate rates and an abundance of empty meeting spaces.
We are now gradually beginning to see power slide away from the buyer’s into a seller’s market. This is undoubtedly good news for venues but critically, it also needs to be a turning point, where a conscious decision needs to be made so that venues avoid the poor contractual practices of the pre-recession years.
I am mainly referring to: ‘The race for space’, a term used to describe the pressure put on clients to contract first, or face losing the venue altogether. This frequently used practice was once an acceptable way for venues to manage enquiry levels, where confirming bookings was far more important than client satisfaction.
The benefits for the venues are evident, after all a fully booked venue is highly profitable, but this practice created an unhealthy environment, showing a clear lack of understanding by venues of the often lengthy decision-making process that occurs when planning an event or conference.
Venues must not be so quick to forget the situation of three years ago, when the market was firmly in favour of the buyer and an excess of provisional bookings, coupled with a refusal to commit pen to paper, frequently ended in disappointment.
Rather than continually embarking upon a tug of war dependent on the state of play, when it comes to contracts, neither side should be able to call the shots over the other.
A contract should hold value, feature mutually agreed terms and protect the interests of both the venues and the clients. Venues need to invite input, offer to negotiate, and highlight all possible risks. Rather than hiding the T’s & C’s on the back page in small font, they should be out on the table from the outset.
Arguably improvements need to be made on both sides. Event bookers still need to realise that venues cannot ignore interest from other parties if a booking is merely provisional, but venues also need to understand that relationship building is important, so allowing clients enough time to contract can be key to securing, not just one conference, but several more after that.
By making both parties clear on all the details, the contract will no longer be seen as a ticking time bomb set to punish bookers in the event of a cancellation. On the contrary, it will be a transparent document designed to cement the start of a mutually beneficial relationship.