Scotland’s increased desirability as an international tourist destination has come hand-in-hand with another growing market: the corporate hospitality sector. Every year a range of organisations, from local charities to international financial giants, look to Scotland’s various venues to host their conferences, meetings or events. While the hotel chains cash in on this by progressively opening more properties throughout the country to wow large corporate gatherings, other, more unique, venues are also building a name for themselves in the corporate event and hospitality market.
These companies pride themselves on offering clients surroundings that are a little different from the hotel function suite or meeting room, unusual locations that combine the staple of strong service with a unique location.
Based in Glasgow, The Arches has become one such venue. Founded as an arts charity in 1990, the organisation started catering to the corporate marketplace in 2000 and has since built up a mixed client base consisting of companies such as Abbey National, Scottish Television and Deloitte & Touche. Currently the organisation believes that 25% of its business comes from local companies, with 45% coming nationally and 30% from companies overseas.
Occupying a large space in the centre of Glasgow, The Arches provides clients with, in addition to catering, a production service that can completely transform the venue to fit with any number of themed events (thus far encompassing everything from a baroque dinner party through to World War Two bunker and vampire nest).
“We do some seminars, but we’re much better as a late-night venue,” said Lynda Forrest, commercial manager at The Arches. “We’re one of the few places in Scotland that offers a one-stop shop. You don’t need to get a production company or a catering company, all they need to do is call me.”
She continued: “I don’t think that there’s that much competition in the unusual venues sector in Glasgow, because there’s such a wide range of venues and everyone’s different.
“Corporate hospitality as a whole is a competitive marketplace but it’s very buoyant. We have limited availability because of the arts programme here and it’s very much a hot ticket.”
Elsewhere in Glasgow the upscale venue One Devonshire Gardens has also been carving a name for itself in the corporate hospitality sector.
Though a hotel itself, the venue’s unique design and individuality nonetheless mark it as an unusual venue, and it has proven very popular with national and international companies alike. In addition to group accommodation and catering, the venue has dedicated meeting and conference rooms.
Alison Hunter, sales and marketing manager at One Devonshire Gardens, remarked: “I think it is a competitive market. We’re all fighting for the same business and there’s more and more hotels moving into Glasgow. But I do think that we do offer something different. I think a lot of people think we’re out of reach, but we are actually very competitive and once people start using us they tend to come back time and time again. We have a great repeat business client list.”
Despite the building’s stylish design and inviting interiors, Hunter argues that one of the main selling points of One Devonshire Gardens is the service offered by its staff. She stated: “We’ve got a very strong staff retention here. Staff like to work here and are proud to work here, and they really want to impress the clients and, of course, they are rewarded for that.
“We’ve got some great new customers and people who are coming back because of the friendliness of the service. People sometimes have a preconception of One Devonshire Gardens that it’s stuffy, but having been here they find that that’s not true at all.”
Further evidence of the hotel’s growing reputation in the corporate sector is the fact that, though the company employs a full-time sales team, a lot of its business, particularly from America, comes in through referral.
Keeping unique design front of mind, it would be hard to find a more unusual venue than Our Dynamic Earth. The Edinburgh-based venue opened in 1999 and is located directly opposite the new Scottish Parliament building. Although primarily a visitor attraction, Dynamic Earth also has a range of facilities available for corporate use.
With names like ‘the stratosphere’, ‘the ozone’ and ‘the biosphere’, Dynamic Earth’s offering certainly achieves the status of ‘unique’, but the venue is also highly flexible and capable of hosting hundreds of people. The largest space (the stratosphere), for example, has space for 1,200 people standing and 600 people at a seated dinner.
“One of our main differentiating factors is that Dynamic Earth is such a very unique venue,” commented Dynamic Earth marketing assistant Jennifer Oliver. “Not only the exterior building and our spectacular backdrop of Arthur’s Seat and Salisbury Crags, but additionally the facilities that we have on offer, such as delegate tours around the attraction. And nowhere else in Edinburgh can an event include a visit to a tropical rainforest or a chilling iceberg.”
If sport is more your thing, however, there is a growing number of corporate hospitality venues which can combine top-notch facilities with a match.
Rangers FC is a prime example of a football club which has invested in providing a full corporate hospitality service at its home games. The famous Ibrox stadium now boasts no fewer than nine different hospitality areas, and offers a range of corporate packages for different sizes and budgets.
Rangers chief executive, Martin Bain, said: “We believe we have a product to suit every level, from private family celebrations to entertaining business customers at the highest level. We have made significant investments in our facilities over the past five years, having refurbished or launched a new product each season in order to retain the highest standards and keep up to date with market demand.”
If it comes down to unique selling points, however, Glasgow’s St Andrew’s in the Square quite possibly takes the biscuit. What other local venue can claim Bonnie Prince Charlie amongst its previous guests? Previously known as St Andrew’s Church, the prince stopped there on his way back from England in 1745, while the church was still under construction. Officially opened in 1754, the church was eventually closed in 1990 to be restored. It re-opened as an arts and corporate venue in 2000, and is currently in the process of rebranding to Glasgow’s Centre for Scottish Culture. Over the last five years, the venue has held a wide range of events, including banquets, conferences, drinks receptions and ceilidhs.
The St Andrew’s main hall can host 250 guests for banqueting or 400 for a standing drinks reception, and the building also has a board room for more private meetings.
Research and development manager, Veronica Low, stated: “As we are such a specialist venue we attract companies who are looking for that wow factor. As Glasgow’s Centre for Scottish Culture we offer that. We probably don’t really compete with hotels, as what we offer is something a little bit different.
“This is a truly Scottish venue, serving world-class Scottish fare with a wonderful history. You just can’t make that up. It is unique.”
For those desiring unusual surroundings as well as a unique venue, a look outside of the city can provide some interesting options. The Lodge on Loch Lomond has offered a dedicated corporate hospitality service since May of last year, and has set out to court companies and organisations wanting a little more than just some food and a meeting room table.
The Lodge can cater for corporate events of up to 250 people. In addition to the standard AGMs and conferences, however, the venue also plays host to a variety of team-building outings, arranging a number of activities from cruises on Loch Lomond to walks, cycling, fishing, water sports and even seaplane flights.
Business development manager, Kirsty McDonald, argued: “The location is definitely a selling point. What can you do in Glasgow? If you stay at a hotel in the city centre you can go downstairs to the pool for a swim, but if you want to do any other kinds of activity you have to leave the hotel and probably the city. Here you’re right next to Loch Lomond and there’s a range of activities right on the doorstep. People don’t always want to be in a city centre, but they don’t want to be far from the airport.”
Though far from a definitive list of Scotland’s unusual venues, these locations provide an example of the kinds of alternative hospitality that is on offer North of the Border. Although the country boasts a range of more traditional conference and event venues, Scotland’s visitors would do well to bear in mind that it can be worthwhile to veer from the beaten track.