Seeing the potential in academic venues

With state-of-the art audio visual support, a combination of old and new facilities and an array of on-site accommodation options, academic venues offer a viable venue for modern conferencing. Government Business explores the value of university settings to the sector.

Universities across the UK provide a wide range of venues and settings, reaching both ends of the design spectrum. Certain universities, steeped in rich history and tradition, possess architectural surroundings that would befit any occasion, while the majority of newer universities offer a range of state of the art facilities and technologies. While it is mainly students that benefit from this variation, most academic venues provide a perfect location for the meetings, conferences and events market.

In addition to meeting facilities and services, academic venues typically offer accommodation. During the summer vacation many universities have a vast amount of bedrooms available, but many of the larger, more established universities offer facilities and overnight accommodation all year round – enabling them to stay on par with other conferencing venues. This vast range of accommodation options within a campus setting make academic venues a viable option for residential conferences, and gives organisers the ability to offer a variety of options for delegates with differing budgets.

More than just a classroom
Many academic venues have iconic and historic buildings offering a special setting for smaller meetings and larger conferences and events. They are constantly investing in their facilities and increasing service standards to rival and compete with hotels and conference centres.

Typically, you’ll find lecture theatres and venues equipped with modern audio-visual equipment and comfortable furniture and fittings. The same quality standards are evident in the kitchen too; catering options are often prepared by award‑winning chefs, creating innovative menus with a passion for local produce, healthy eating and sustainable working practices. The commitment is the same front of house as well, service staff are professionally trained and have a sincere commitment to customer service.

Clients and agents are utilising university venues more and more as positive experiences generate an increase in confidence from the market. Alongside good communications programmes and the industry pulling together, changes in perceptions are starting to happen – the days of chalkboards and curly sandwiches are a thing of the past.

Academic distinction
Close ties with learning excellence and the ability to link with academic colleagues to enhance events adds further value. For event organisers looking to attract speakers who are experts in a specific academic field, universities often offer a wealth of relevant resources – for example, a medical conference can enjoy a keynote speech from an esteemed lecturer in the field.

With ongoing research being carried out, the unique resources that universities offer become more fitting for a conference. Experts in their own field are also often keen to showcase the university where they are based and conference teams based at universities can help organisers to find a relevant speaker from sources on campus.

More often than not, any profits generated from conferences held at academic venues are directly reinvested back into the university. This revenue means buildings can be updated, whilst research programmes and other learning facilities benefit from a boost in resources, helping to pave the way for the country’s next generation of business and thought leaders. Offering conferencing options becomes not just an additional service, but a source of revenue.

Fair pricing
While many venues have clearly had to adjust their pricing strategies as a consequence of the recession, academic venues have largely avoided entering a rate slashing competition. Excessively reducing rates invariably leads to a compromise on standards and investment in areas of the business such as staff, improvements and maintenance. This is a concession it is unwilling to embark upon as they know customers have come to rely upon and expect high levels of service.

That said, some clients have been lured away by the prospect of lower rates. However, the majority of these customers have since returned as they recognise that despite a slight differential in a 24-hour rate, the inevitable compromise on aspects like service standards, cleanliness or quality of food, plus the creep of additional costs for extras, has had a detrimental effect on their event’s objectives.

The academic sector now rightfully accounts for a significant percentage of the multi-billion pound events, conferences and meetings sector. The combination of expert staff, the advantages of a university setting, a core focus on quality content and attractive rates have shown organisers that academic venues are the ideal solution for their delegates – whatever the question.

Sparsholt College case study
Based on Sparsholt College’s scenic campus just ten minutes from the culturally rich medieval city of Winchester, just under an hour from London by train and 30 minutes from Southampton Airport, Sparsholt Conferences and Events is a conveniently located and superbly connected rural venue.

Surrounded by the Hampshire countryside, the academic venue offers a fantastic combination of locations and facilities of varying sizes, making it ideal for both business and private functions.

Sparsholt College offers boardrooms, training rooms and a large conference venue, with all presentation and audio-visual equipment free of charge. There is also en‑suite accommodation, on-site catering and event coordinators to help where necessary.

Sparsholt College is a flexible conference and events venue with staff who work tirelessly with their clients to ensure that every aspect of their event runs smoothly, customising venue, catering, accommodation and team building packages to suit their needs.

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