London: We Were There

While monarchies and jubilees might seem quaint, planners who have been to London are stuck by how modern, inventive and dynamic a business destination the city is.

Sandra Fox, senior strategy-management coordinator with Frito-Lay in Plano, Texas, is taking a 40-person senior management group to London in April. This past November, she made her first trip there in 20 years and found that "the cityscape has changed dramatically. With attractions like the London Eye, it looks more contemporary than I recall," she says. "And there are many more opportunities for interesting things to do than when I was there before, which is exciting."

While the event and venue selection have improved, Fox's group won't experience much of it. Their itinerary comprises mainly meetings and meals. Her people are "foodies," so she'll take them to a five-star restaurant, probably one of Gordon Ramsay's, let them have a night on their own and a final night at the riverside Butler's Wharf Chop House.

Jodi Swailes, Des Moines, Iowa-based senior buyer and geographic specialist with incentive house ITA Group, says the surprise about London is the way it keeps "changing and evolving. You still have the historical sites and the royal connections, but there are really neat things they keep developing all the time."

Denver-based Maribeth Oberheide, global sourcing manager for Experient, took two groups to London in 2011 and has another two groups booked for 2012 (so far), making it her top global destination for clients. She says the city's allure "is as a great first-time international destination for people who are not well traveled. It's a very glamorous, very savvy city, and it's very easy to experience, especially for people who speak English."

The familiarity doesn't stop with language. It continues with the way business is conducted. "I enjoy working with the hotels because the U.K., in general, is pretty similar to the U.S. and Canada, where it's easy to get a response, and they follow up in a timely manner," Oberheide says.
So far, Oberheide's clients are avoiding any rate hikes by booking outside the upcoming Summer Olympic Games' period. She's also considering abandoning pricier international hotel brands in favor of the domestic Thistle hotel chain.

Dean Martin, CMP, appreciates that London can do fast turn-arounds. For the second time in three years, Martin, Microsoft's senior industry program manager for global field delivery and events, took 1,100 people to an intense two-day, three-night sales training meeting at the Sofitel Heathrow. Not only did the hotel work with his "lean budget" on a month's notice, it was able to accommodate Microsoft's significant technology needs.

"Bandwidth is definitely a consideration when we're looking at venues," says Martin. "Our events tend to be very demo heavy. We have crashed venues before. We have these conversations up front, where we tell them that we will test their bandwith and system, and they insist, ''Oh, we're fine,' but sure enough, many are not fine."