What has happened to Christmas past? Back in 1999 I can recall the diary being full by February. September brought upgrades; ‘can we have liquors with coffee, full spirit bar and dancing girls? While you’re at it can we add a comedienne: Ruby Wax at £10k would be great’. Oh happy days. I can recall the big banks fighting over dates, words like ‘money no object’ were common place.
Whereas Christmas present sees the diary remaining almost bare until September then the enquiries pick up but everyone is so non-committal. Clients do not want to be seen as spending too much on extravagant parties, but seem happy to upgrade wines (champagne is a bit too vulgar after cutting the workforce by 20%) yet a high end wine is acceptable. It’s all about perception in 2011. More companies seem to be taking clients oversees to cheaper offerings and this takes them under the radar of the press here in the UK. End of October: contracts finally come in but we have had to fight for the business, the battle has been tough. However, I must confess I have enjoyed it with the launch of our price match promotion and the 12 dates of Christmas offering agents higher commission. Both have generated extra sales. I have a few ideas for 2012 to ensure that with the smaller cake of events we get a bigger slice but more about this in 2012. We need to keep market share and with constant updates in Merlin attractions next year the venues remain very relevant. The latest being a sports zone at Madame Tussauds, this is a great example which has made the main ballroom larger, yes more space in a 125 year old building! This year has seen the birth of our shared parties in a far more commercial way; in the past we did a couple mainly to fill diaries on off peak. This year we will produce 8 across the London Merlin venues – the London Dungeon and the new 5D ride being the most popular.
I think the perception of spending money will remain and perhaps the heady days of 1999 will not return. I don’t think Scrooge has taken over it is just perception again. With the onslaught of staff welfare, is it acceptable to get staff drunk? I think clients are looking to celebrate success, so more awards dinners but in a more informal setting. The growing popularity of shared parties will continue apace with unique venues taking up the challenge from the “pretenders” – the marquees. Whilst they have filled a gap in the market; the unique venues with integrated themes, full services, great locations, guaranteed licenses and robust businesses (I am sure we can remember back in 2008 when a few Christmas agents went under along with client’s deposits) will give the marquees a run for their money. I have seen the growth of our own parties at Madame Tussauds with private dining options and fully themed rooms, rides and a 4D show, the marquees cannot compete with this. Maybe price will be where the battle lines will be drawn. Nevertheless, the marquee business is a mature one and some players do offer a great product.
Where do you see the future for Christmas parties?