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And back in the room

And back in the room

Cameron Roberts talks to Rebecca Hawkes, director of sales and events at Searcys, on what’s in store for 2022.

With the past 18 months being spent behind screens for many of the events industry, the desire to meet face-to-face has perhaps never been higher. For a corporate hospitality and catering provider like Searcys, having people back in the room is a boon that cannot be overstated.

The business hosts events from a variety of venues, from Blenheim Palace to The Gherkin. I spoke to Rebecca Hawkes, director of sales and events at Searcys, about the bookings the business is seeing, as well as how the company has handled the pandemic.

Free at last

Specialising in in-person events has been a difficult patch to navigate in recent years, now that the events industry is looking to bounce back. What change is Searcys seeing in its client base?

As you might expect, the easing of restrictions in the UK has had a Rebecca Hawkes profound impact on the bookings seen by Searcys, with not only more inquiries being seen, but more confirmations as well.

Hawkes says: “2022 did not start quite as we would have liked it to, you know. We really did see things start to pick up towards the tail end of last year across September, October, November.

“What we have seen since they started announcing the release of restrictions with the stay-at-home guidance lifted, is a real resurgence in inquiries. Just to give an example, in the last three weeks, we’ve seen a 76% increase in inquiry levels. What’s really good alongside the inquiry shooting up is that confirmation is starting to come through now as well.”

Not only is the booking pattern picking up, but the business is seeing a change in what is being requested, with more of an emphasis on the social side of events. Smaller bookings of 10 to 20 people for dinner occasions are also on the rise, with people keen to take advantage of Searcys’ portfolio of restaurants and bars.

Hawkes says: “Having a social part of the meeting is such an important aspect for people now; lunches, dinner meetings, but with drinks at the end, that kind of thing. We’re seeing quite a lot of short lead stuff come in.”

Hawkes also spoke of larger-scale conferences being booked, with two conferences of several hundred people alongside the smaller bookings with the short pick-ups for events being advantageous for the business.

It’s not all corporate meetings and conferences for Searcys, however, it also is taking part in International Women’s Day. By partnering with the Institute of Directors on a sustainable fashion show, the venue collection continues its tradition of championing women in the business

“We’re celebrating International Women’s Day, they’re an important piece of the puzzle. We started working with the Institute of directors last year, they have a female CEO, who’s called Esther Teeken. We’re collaborating with an event, which is being held at 116 Pall Mall, that aims to champion women and sustainability.”

What’s changed?

Beyond a returning confidence in the events industry, Searcys has changed the way it approaches clients and creates bookings to respond to a growing need to adapt to survive, according to Hawkes.

She says: “I think that we’ve had to look at the way that we sell and our flexibility. We’ve written Covid-19 clauses into our terms and conditions that give people confidence in terms of needing to postpone if restrictions come back.

“We are trying to operate quite a flexible approach in terms of giving people the confidence that if they have to cancel, they can. We’ll be as flexible as we can in terms of accommodating them at another time, which I think is what people are really looking for because of the uncertainty.”

Of course, it wouldn’t be post-pandemic events without talking about hybrid options, with a wealth of venues on offer.

Hawkes detailed how different venues have different capabilities. While some, like One Moorgate place, have AV inbuilt, others, like The View Royal College of Surgeons, has the capacity for organisers to bring in their own equipment.

Highlighting the need for venues to be aware of hybrid events, Hawkes says: “We do get a lot of people asking for hybrid. I think that it’s one of those things that’s probably around to stay now.

“I think we are seeing a move off complete virtual into a hybrid arrangement. It’s not non-negotiable these days in terms of what you do. So, we have a variety of different sites.”