Bosses are the talk of London

Conferences: the capital is booked up months ahead
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The Independent Online
London has become Europe's leading conference centre, to such an extent that the best venues usually need to be booked months in advance. The globalisation of commerce and the increasing integration and expansion of the European Union mean that conference organisers are catering for an ever more international audience.

"I would no longer contemplate running a conference only for the domestic market," says Lindy Bird, the managing director of Cadogan International Conferences. "I might hold it in London but I would expect an international attendance. London is seen as a centre, particularly for asset management, which I specialise in."

One of Cadogan's forthcoming events is the annual California information technology and investment and partnering forum, which is co-hosted by the Bank of America, Easdaq, the European stock exchange, and the Silicon Valley Bank but which is to be held at the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre in Westminster.

The advantages of London are based on its high quality venues, which offer good telecommunications and IT facilities and general support services, allowing executives to continue running their businesses while they are away at a conference. "The hotels with good business centres do best for conferences because it is what the delegates increasingly want," says Mrs Bird. "Two years ago people used to love going to conferences. Now they expect a hell of a lot more. They want good phone managers so that they can still carry on business while they are at conference."

The strengthening of English as the international business language has also confirmed London's role, though internationalisation has also created extra demand for translation facilities, which must now be incorporated as standard.

Nick Redfern, an executive of the International Conference Group, says that the perception abroad of London as a glamorous city gives it an allure that attracts delegates from across Europe. "We often do surveys and London is always top of the list, even though we still hold conferences elsewhere sometimes. It is the cultural perspective of London that is attractive, particularly to people from the emerging markets in Europe, which is a growing sector. A conference is often delegates' first chance to visit London. One eastern European bank rents a house permanently for delegates. It is relatively short of cash, so can send more delegates as it is cheaper than a hotel. They don't send their people to conferences in any other cities."

"It is important to have the conference somewhere that is interesting, so people can stay on an extra couple of days," confirms Catherine Chetwynd, contributing editor of Delegates, the conference sector's magazine.

But while the number of conferences in London is growing, they are also getting more serious, Ms Chetwynd adds. The days of conferences being an easy few days away to socialise and network are long gone. "There used to be lots of jollies, and people still spend a lot of money on conferences, but it is more focused on the serious presentation," she says.

There is a need for more high quality conference centres to keep up with demand, including one in the heart of the City, if London is not to lose much of the top-end of the market. Market leaders have to remember to keep getting better.