Back in the Room! The Ups and Downs of Booking Venues

By William Buist

Before the pandemic we had a lot of venues to choose from, when looking for places to hold events. Many of the venues had a lot of spare capacity. In that highly competitive market the customer held the cards, venues made slim margins and they offered many add on services. Many larger venues had their own in-house teams for AV support and catering that could be used, for reasonable extra costs.

The pandemic changed the landscape significantly, causing a few headaches for anyone booking a venue. Lockdowns and the furlough support meant that staff were retained, but were not working. Most venues were closed, except for basic maintenance. As time went on, debts mounted and furloughed staff were made redundant, to save costs. Some venues failed to survive.

As lockdowns ended and events started to happen again, the landscape changed again. Sales and booking teams had been trimmed down to the core staff. Many worked from home, were harder to reach and were much less responsive than they had been. Capacity had fallen both in individual venues, due to covid restrictions, and in the market due to venues closing. Demand was still very low and many people were unwilling to gather in large numbers, yet many venues needed to reopen, or risk missing the revenue that was available. For many this was a time of significant losses, along with the acceptance of debt such as the CBILS or Bounce Back loans guaranteed by the government.

How it Looks Today

Today venues face price pressures from the costs of servicing additional debt, general inflation and the costs of energy. Extras such as AV support is now often outsourced and therefore more expensive. In one venue we know of, asking to use just one microphone for an event brought with it a non-negotiable requirement for an AV team to be booked, to support its use – at a total cost of over £700 for the day. In some cases, that can double the per person day rate of an event!

 Catering has also been outsourced in many venues, giving them a loss of flexibility. For some venues, catering numbers and dietary requirements are often needed days, even a couple of weeks, in advance. Yet bookings are still happening much closer to event dates, as people are unsure about whether or not to book. After two years of uncertainty, attendees aren’t willing to commit weeks in advance, in case the situation changes. Hardly surprising.

Yet for an association like the PSA, where bringing members together is so crucial for the connection that members enjoy, these pricing challenges are tough. As a profession we too have had challenges; many members are cost conscious, whilst others are uncertain about the wisdom of gathering. The Association and our hard working Regional Presidents, are keen to minimise the cost of attending events whilst maximising the experience. That has never been more difficult than it is today. We want to encourage as many of our members to come back to meetings, to connect with other speakers, to learn and share. Some aspects of events may look odd, irrational, short-sighted, or even downright bonkers. You might want to question some of the changes and please do. We will be completely open with you about the costs being imposed on our events by venues.

For a while we will have to live with their decisions and their costs. Looking forwards, currently closed venues will be bought and redeveloped. Then we will have more options in a more competitive market. At the customer, we will hold the cards again. In the meantime, we will continue to work hard, negotiate hard and create the PSA events that bring you together with your fellow members, so that you too can focus on the future of your speaking business.