In a recessionary 2009, the last thing many big brands wanted was to be seen splashing unnecessary cash taking clients or journalists out on lavish jollies.
The corporate hospitality market took a drubbing, as banks, businesses and individuals concentrated on tightening the purse strings, rather than booking their regular box at Lord's. 'We have seen reports that the corporate hospitality market has been down as much as 30 per cent,' says Ted Walker, marketing manager of ticket company Keith Prowse. 'We ourselves noticed a reduction of about 20 per cent.'
Many predict this year will be significantly kinder than the last.
'We have seen a desire for people to carry on using corporate hospitality in the current climate,' says Walker. 'With the internet and email, less and less business is done face to face, and brands still value the opportunities corporate hospitality provides.' Plus the international spectacle that is the football World Cup looms. But brands may not necessarily be rushing to book tickets to South Africa.
Those in the know say the type of corporate hospitality firms are asking for has shifted irrevocably.
'We will not see a return to the pre-recession days,' asserts Justine Clement, managing director at experiential firm Unmissable. 'Corporate hospitality has shifted from the big glitz, glamour and over-indulgent events. Many companies will be very keen to keep their activity under the radar.'
'We are seeing companies ask for less formal and slightly lower cost packages,' says Walker. 'That is not just the economic climate, it is to do with changing social aspects and the changing demographic of people in middle and high management. A younger generation is coming through, not necessarily wanting the formal sit-down three-course meal.'
Of course, the sit-down meal is still an option for those of the old school, but the demand is moving from passively watching an event from the comfort of the lunch table, to being included in the action.
THE YEAR AHEAD
The obvious event looming on the 2010 calendar is the football World Cup in South Africa. While some brands will still be shelling out for plane tickets for their most important clients, most are likely to go down the road of private screenings, hiring hotels or restaurants for match days including a screening and a meal, or World Cup-themed events.
Despite predictions that the economic climate will pick up in 2010, brands will still be careful about how they are seen to spend.
'For clients on the receiving end of hospitality, there are also changes,' adds Unmissable's Clement. 'Many are turning down hospitality or reducing the amount of events they attend, as they can't be seen to be going out partying. They are having to validate which events they attend.'
Adrian Brady, CEO of Eulogy, warns if brands want clients to give up their personal time to attend events, they will need to make it a very appealing package: 'In many cases, people will only give up their personal time if a relationship already exists.'
To get around the problem, Clement advises tailoring an event to appeal to the senior management that brands would like to attract. Keith Prowse's Walker agrees clients will be expecting more. 'We are seeing demand for more experiential events, such as the players' lounge at Twickenham, where you get four or five players coming straight off the pitch for a question and answer session. Although these packages are at a premium, demand has not been affected.'
'We will definitely see more celebrities and sporting heroes involved in events to give them a more personalised feel,' adds Clement.
Other types of events likely to be popular in 2010 include interactive packages, where clients can be coached in activities such as golf or driving by a professional or sporting hero. Events in which the client can bring a partner or even their whole family will also succeed, predicts Clement.
Looking ahead, the huge event on the horizon for the corporate hospitality world is London 2012. 'Things will start stepping up towards the end of 2010 and into 2011 as the scramble for business begins,' predicts David Quainton, deputy editor of Event magazine. 'Big brands will already be planning their 2012 strategies.'
'This is the time when companies are starting to scrabble around to find out how they can get access to packages for the Olympics,' says Luke Robinson, hospitality director for sports marketing agency Essentially. 'People are already asking what they can do around the Olympics, but as yet we are having to wait and see what will be available.' He says more information on what may be available in terms of Olympic hospitality is expected later in 2010.
Aside from the Olympics, higher-end events are likely to recover their popularity, says Quainton: 'Events such as Cartier International Polo are likely to recover quickest because the market they attract is wealthy whatever the rest of the world is experiencing.'
Unmissable's Clement says private members clubs will prove popular and predicts the most successful will be those that are renowned for their discretion.
At the other end of the scale, the trend for value for money is also set to continue. Robinson says sporting dinners are proving popular, citing examples in 2009 of up to 1,000 people attending dinners that cost around £150 a head, rather than £700.
'Expect more flexible ticket prices and a greater bundling of packages together to offer top value as corporate hospitality suppliers try to tempt back clients,' adds Quainton.
Finally, as the sectors that have traditionally flung money at corporate hospitality, such as banking, continue to watch how they are perceived, other brands will be able to infiltrate the premium package market. 'In the past, when the banking sector was more buoyant, people may have assumed that everything would be booked out, but that is no longer the case,' reports Keith Prowse's Walker.
CORPORATE HOSPITALITY IN 2010
- Football World Cup (June)
- Ryder Cup (October)
- England vs Ireland in the Six Nations (27 February)
- Players' lounge at Twickenham
- Men's quarter, semi and finals at Wimbledon
- Family fun days
- Coaching days with a pro golfer
- Value for money
- Buffet lunches and 'chef's tables'
- £150 a head
- Splashing the cash
- £1,000 a head
- Horse racing
- Motor sports
- Sit-down three-course meals
BESPOKE EVENTS - The personal touch
PR agency: Launch Group
According to Dan Keene, senior account manager at Launch, the oil firm will be making its corporate hospitality in 2010 all about the personal touch.
'Most people are moving away from the off-the-shelf packages, such as private boxes and the set experiences, and moving towards bespoke events. They still want people to have a great experience, but it is more bespoke to them as a company and their marketing objectives.
'They will still be focusing on things such as golf, but instead of just going to The Belfry and doing half a day on the fairways, it will be a full day of golf and will carry on with quizzes and other ways to get people to interact for longer and get more out of the event.'
Once off the golf course, the personal touch will continue, he predicts. 'In the past, a simple corporate dinner may have included a bit of entertainment, such as a string quartet playing in the background.
'Now we are being asked for something different that people can say was interesting. This year, we're doing an event in a castle in Harrogate, linked to an exhibition on the history of the castle, with activities around its history.'