2014 has been a sensational year for the events industry. There have been more corporate events staged and more venues, hotels, restaurants and event service providers booked by event organisers than any other time in the past five years. Here's our review of the year and a look ahead at some of the key London event trends for 2015...
So 2014 was a lot of things. It was bigger, bolder and better than 2013 which was itself much bigger than the Olympic year that preceded it (and that took us all by surprise). Perhaps fittingly, this is the year that the magnificent Olympic Park sprang back to life in its newly refined and meticulously manicured state. And it's not just the sporting facilities that are available. The ArcelorMittal Orbit is an obvious highlight, being the UK's tallest sculpture (so tall, in fact, that at a recent event up there we were literally in a cloud..!). With panoramic views of the magical and glittering London skyline as well as the Olympic Stadium from above, the Orbit really is a destination venue of considerable note.
What's more, there's a brand new purpose built events venue called The Podium just outside, with a state of the art fully wired conference centre (you can even rock up and seamlessly present using only your mobile phone) and a wonderful roof terrace offering panoramic views of the Olympic Park and the spectacularly illuminated Westfield Centre beyond. The Olympic Park landscape has matured too - the grass has grown, as have the trees and the entire environment seems to have come into its own. From the Velodrome to the 'Box that Rocks', the awe-inspiring Aquatics Centre to the Olympic Park's large external spaces, they're all open for corporate business in 2015 and it's a true Olympic Legacy experience, just as we were promised!
It's no surprise that there's been a huge upsurge in activity this year, for all sorts of reasons. Events are an enthralling and statistically proven method for promotion of a brand, product or service (from an album via a promotional tour to the iPhone 6 via a press conference) and, perhaps even more ergonomically, events are an experiential, immersive human touch-point in an otherwise digital existence. Ironically, the two complement each other perfectly. Virtual and actual are a potent combination it transpires. Even Christmas parties support this comeback with Christmas specific parties booked through londonlaunch.com up 307% and more festive facebook posts this year than ever before - Christmas jumpers have made a marked comeback to offices across London too. Which is great because I'm sleigh-riding back into fashion (kinda)!
In fact, the statistics prove a dramatic increase in enquiries of all types, across the board this year.
Londonlaunch.com statistics 2013 - 2014
- Unique visitors are up 145%
- User sessions are up 128%
- Event enquiries are up 393%
And in terms of specific venue type searches:
- Requests for Unique and unusual venues are up 328%
- Searches for Warehouses are up 183%
- Corporates looking to book Bars and clubs are up by an astonishing 735%
As for more generic terms:
- Private venue hire is up 185%
- Corporates searching for 'event technology' are up by 63%
What this demonstrates is an unequivocal tidal swell across all event genres. It's not just those innovative, forward-thinking brands staging engaging events in unique and quirky spaces (although the 328% increase in that sector demonstrates that more organisers are getting more adventurous), it's actually events in general. From simple corporate dinners to casual office get-togethers, it's all been happening in 2014.
Food and drink
Catering has enjoyed a resurgence of sorts too (and that's not an inappropriate regurgitation pun!). Of course, the more events that are staged, the more catering will be required in general but it's not quite that simple. As well as there being significantly fewer events in recent times, the past few years have seen some pretty mean events too - it was almost as if event hosts were teasing their guests with an ironic wartime theme, with food and drink rationed to a point where it was almost non-existent. As a result, savvy guests developed an austerity-busting knack of strategically positioning themselves by the kitchens, poised to pounce on rare trays of canapés before they even hit the party floor. This accentuated the problem because the already scarce food supply was cut off at the source, rendering most of the guests unsustained.
Event organisers were exposed as cheapskates which often made their events more damaging than beneficial, which ultimately benefitted McDonald's who became the default after-party venue of choice. It's almost as if the corporate party hosts were begrudging their own (hungry) guests and treating catering as an afterthought or a necessary evil which could be tossed onto the backburner. Well, in 2014 organisers reacted to this unsavoury notion, realising that an event with shit (or no) food would only ever be an event with shit (or no) food and therefore a shit event. What's more, delicious, plentiful food is probably the most important individual aspect of any event. Especially as the majority of events have either a 6.30pm or 8.30am start time - the two points of the day where we're at our hungriest (least tolerant and most aggressive). So, in 2014, it was categorically established that catering is actually quite important and that it needs to constitute (or replace) a full meal. Guests are more sophisticated and discerning too these days (master-chef is at least partly to blame for this as is our fascination with celebrity chefs) so party food needs to be not only better than home cooked food but also on a par with the top restaurants. Yes, in 2014 events have become a gastronomic experience as well as being engaging and immersive. So here lies the big 2014 catering breakthrough. The food has become central to the event.
In fact, your event food needs to be eatable, tweetable and, frankly, unbeatable.
Our 2014 Catering Trends Report highlights this notion as well as identifying the key trends in terms of ingredients, logistics and style. Bowl food is popular because it's more substantial than canapés, for example. And sit down meals (albeit on a smaller, more intimate scale) are coming back.
"We're now in the best period we've ever been for British gastronomy. Over the last five years, I think we've grown to have a much bigger sense of pride and confidence in our food. We're now a nation of foodies." Heston Blumenthal, at our Corporate VIP event at the Saatchi Gallery in May 2014.
Indeed, it's boom time for caterers. Here are 2014's vital statistics to prove it.
- Caterers are reporting that 58% of their clients spent more in 2014 than they did in 2013.
- 55% are now spending more than £31 per head on catering at their events, which is a dramatic increase on previous years.
- 90% of all spend is on corporate events
Popular trends for 2014/2015 include:
- (Glorified and somewhat refined) Street Food
- Food Theatre - in the age of immersion and engagement you're gonna need some drama!
- Food Stations - variety is the spice of life...(freedom is pretty cool too). Elaborate food stations we've seen this year include the magnificent Airstream Revival from Ideas Box. Mainly because we loved Breaking Bad!
- Provenance - guests love to know where their food has come from and the CSR box can be ticked if it's sourced locally. Supporting the local community and working with local seasonal produce is hugely popular at the moment. And it's fresher!
- Pop-ups provide an edgy, fun and off-the-cuff, anything-can-happen environment which is particularly popular with bold and innovative brands such as online game developers. The more traditional corporations are following suit.
- Effervescence and flamboyance. The more you treat them, the more they'll tweet them!
- Sit down dinners are back!
- Formal informality - basically simple things, done really well. Like picnic hampers.
- Emphasis on quality and, where appropriate, quantity.
Clients are getting more adventurous too, with Peruvian, Korean (South, I presume!), African, Asian, Brazilian (partly influenced by the World Cup in 2014), Mexican, Moroccan and even Russian food being particularly popular. Check out Russian Revels for a fantastic Russian themed experience with a twist (succulent liquid beetroot pies are way more delicious than I could ever describe!)
Click here to download our complete 2014 catering trends report (it's got pie charts (pun intended) and everything!)
Service and Presentation
Service has also been a key area of focus in 2014 and it's no surprise that this goes hand in hand with catering. Event staff (and that's waiters, waitresses, hosts, hostesses, even the cloakroom team (in fact, especially the cloakroom team)) are your front line.
Your event staff represent your brand even more than you do (because they are the first people your guests see and there are more of them than there are of you!). So don't skimp on staff. In the digital age, human interaction is more important than ever and, ironically, if it’s lacking, it's the first thing your guests or delegates will pick up on and amplify via social media. In fact, service has become so important that the industry Gold Service Award has been established by the five-star hotel and Michelin starred restaurant worlds to reward the unsung front of house heroes with the overriding message that 'service' is a destination, and not necessarily just a journey.
See our 10 secrets to great service
Seasonal themed parties
Seasonal events (and, interestingly, not just Christmas and summer which have come back in a big way too - 307% in 2014) are storming onto the scene. Halloween is bigger than ever and more corporates are joining in the fun. A surprising number of venues threw spectacular (I absolutely refuse to use the ridiculous word 'spooktacular' in any circumstances...D'oh!) Halloween themed venues - from Home House to Steam and Rye and more risqué joints such as Tonteria and Cirque le Soir, Facebook was awash with bloody nurses and (bloody) superheroes. America gets some things really right and Halloween, albeit originally an English tradition, is one such thing. They took it, they shook it and, whether we like it or not, now we're all starting to book it! Even Thanksgiving has somehow made its way over here and, even more weirdly, Black Friday follows it with feverish fervour (even though it's not technically even a thing in the UK!).
Apps and Technology
Technology has come on leaps and bounds in the past year. Of course, the actual tech has been around for a while but it's the integration that's changed. Whereas event technology was complicated and generally annoying, it's now simpler, slicker and worth engaging with. It's actually useful. Of course, this is at least partly due to the fact that venue Wi-Fi is much improved. We once invented the coolest event app ever - called 'Who's in the room' which was designed to tell people....err...who's in the room (amongst a few other things). It was the most brilliant app (in theory) but, in practice, it was crap, mainly because our venue was like a fortress and nobody could get a phone signal! In 2014 that's all changed.
Twitter walls and Twitter falls have become seamlessly integrated web waterfalls, combining all the social networks and encouraging real-time engagement across the board. ThinkWall are the new industry leaders in this field. Likewise, Lumi has stormed onto the scene in a big way, providing events with engaging and immersive solutions which will quite simply revolutionise the reach and engagement of your guests and their networks. This year's LiveTECH conference saw dramatic levels of delegate engagement via a brilliant app developed by Crystal Interactive. That app was genuinely amazing but that's not enough on its own. Everyone has to use it for it to work effectively. It's like going to a networking event and relying on other guests turning up. Unless you give them a great reason, they just won't. The solution was simple. Tablet Rentals. We gave every delegate a pre-loaded iPad mini on arrival (you can't yet expect your delegates to go native en masse) with one active function - our conference app. The results were astonishing - hundreds of guest interactions, thousands of pages of notes (all emailed to their respective registered ipad operator) and tens of thousands of social shares - all from one source. Oh, and it was all logged for research and demographic purposes. The net result is that we'll never run a conference again without such an app because it changed everything for the better. Everything. Reach, engagement and legacy. There are a wide variety of reputable event tech companies and applications out there and we've tried to collate our favourites in our event management software section.
In summary, 2014 was a welcome return to form for the events world. A year in which we collectively recognised the power of a great event. A year in which we started to stop skimping on budgets. A year where we decided to feed our guests and give them something to talk about (online). 2014 was the year when event tech suddenly became useful as opposed to being an annoying novelty. It seems that the world has caught up with our sector's innovative ideas and corporate event organisers are starting to show evidence that they're willing to spend money on quality experiences.
So, it's all teed up and we're ready to rock in 2015! I predict it'll be a huge year for events and hospitality because it just works. Oh, and the world is bored of austerity...
Merry Christmas and let's make sure it's an event full New Year!