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Welcome to the Unique & Unusual Market Report 2018

An analysis of the sector within the UK’s meetings and events industry. This report pulls together data from several sources, including published industry reports, interviews and case studies

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Jo Austin, Sales Director, Lime Venue Portfolio

Last time, in this introduction I talked about the importance of those in the unique and unusual venue category taking more of a leadership role, and making the transition from ‘new kids on the block’ to the established norm within the industry. I was also delighted to hear the comments of so many industry leaders about the unusual venue sector, from its role as a reason to have meetings in Britain, to its high standards and professionalism. It only underlines the appetite the industry has for this market, and we’re delighted to present this report again.

Welcome to the second edition of the now award winning Lime Venue Portfolio’s Unique & Unusual Market Report; our 2.0 edition if you will.

The subject of standards is one very close to my heart, and it’s something we strive for every day throughout the portfolio. I was therefore delighted to see that the sector most often choosing unusual venues is the corporate audience. This is really significant for all of us. As a brand, we have long been a cheerleader for ‘better’ meetings, and for those organisers who, by choosing a special venue, are already seeking to elevate the impact of their event. It should be no surprise that brands look to our venues to make a statement for their business from the word go.

One of the other statistics that struck me in reading the 2018 UKCAMS report this year was the popularity unusual venues have amongst ‘local’ audiences. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that people want an experience that highlights its locality; businesses have a sense of pride in their local icons – be they sporting or cultural. However, this locality shouldn’t be misunderstood as ‘regional’. In an industry that is global in nature, we should remember that UK businesses want a ‘local’ venue as well, be it the home of England Rugby or a former seat of a Queen.

Our business has roots firmly in the UK but, as we look to take on more of a leadership profile, those in the UK should look abroad for inspiration. I read with interest the ibtm World Trends Report and, throughout every territory on the planet, meetings, events and incentive programmes are looking to move from operationally-led to creatively-led; from event to experience.

This should excite us in the unusual venue market. We stand for experience, and it’s shown in this 2018 UKCAMS report that we’re becoming a close ally to brands. We therefore absolutely represent event organisers who want to make memories as well as meetings.



"Events are increasingly being inspired by the latest trends in the consumer world, for example the rise of ‘festivalisation’ of business events, planners want something truly different to make their event stand out. As this report confirms, there is also growing demand in the business events industry for venues that offer something unique. We are fortunate to have such a diversity of quality venues on offer right across the country, from historic to modern, from large exhibition centres to high-end boutique, which is one of the many reasons why international planners are choosing the UK for their business events."


  • Unique
  • Unusual

Of course, everything is unique, no two things are exactly unique. At Lime Venue Portfolio, what we define as unique is something that stands apart from convention. Our portfolio is recognized for how different it is from 'the norm' the classic purpose built conference centre or hotel group, regardless of how exceptional the standards are within.

Unique to us is something arresting, with individualism and personality, something outside of convention, defined by its difference. A place apart from others.

In our mind, the unusual is always a good thing. In a world of disruption, extra dynamic markets and creativity, we’re increasingly attracted to the unusual. Unusual is also rare, pleasantly surprising, and rewarding. Unusual is often unique, and vice versa.


This report is built around specific data found in the UK Conference and Meeting Survey, using its most recent report (June 2018), as well as previous historic data.

The UK Conference and Meeting Survey (UKCAMS) seeks to:
  • Measure the key characteristics of the UK conference and meetings market from a venue perspective
  • Provide the best possible estimates for volume and value aspects of the market

It is worth putting into context the findings found in this report by picking out some of the wider market trends taking place across the industry.


Source: 'UK Conference and Meetings Survey 2018 (UKCAMS)'

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    of venues indicated that business was on the up







Unique & Unusual Venues - An Executive Summary


The continual changes in the meetings and conference world make it all the more important that we monitor and research the effectiveness of these changes and keep abreast of new and emerging trends. One of the recent trends identified by Lime Venue Portfolio is that of ‘event convergence’, where two or more existing events combine to create a bigger and more all-encompassing super-event. It’s also known in the industry as the ‘less is more’ trend, and is part of a wider move by event organisers to create one brilliant event in exchange for five reasonable events. It is interesting to see that the 2018 UKCAMS research findings add credence to this trend with venues reporting fewer but larger events staged in 2017.

The ‘UK Conference and Meeting Survey’ (UKCAMS) provides crucial market intelligence on the UK meetings and conference sector, covering volume and value and key trends data from a supply-side or venue perspective. The research has been undertaken annually since 1993 and has established a high profile for the integrity and consistency of its findings. It provides the estimate for the value of the UK conference and meetings sector, currently £18.1 billion, used by the Business Visits and Events Partnership and many other bodies.

Unusual and unique venues are a major contributor to the UKCAMS research programme, representing an estimated 30 per cent of the universe of 3,500 primary conference and meeting venues used as the basis for the research. Participating venues cover a broad spectrum of unusual and unique venues, such as sports stadia, zoos, ships, theatres, castles, racecourses, visitor attractions, museums, distilleries, guildhalls, wineries and many more.

While, by definition, conferences and meetings are not the main business focus of unusual venues, such venues are nevertheless major players in the meetings sector. In 2017 they staged 18 per cent of the estimated 1.29 million conferences and meetings taking place in the UK. They are second only to hotels in terms of their market share, on a par with dedicated conference and training centres.

The research reveals that unusual venues staged an annual average of 243 conferences and meetings over the period 2015-2017. The events that they host average 1.7 days’ duration, slightly longer than equivalent events held in hotels. And, interestingly, a higher proportion of their business (75 per cent) is generated from the region in which they are located than for any other type of venue.

Unusual venues are popular for corporate events, accounting for almost half of unusual venues’ business in 2015-2017, but are also well used by government and public sector bodies (35 per cent of their business) and associations (18 per cent). The average size of events hosted is 105 delegates, which means that unusual venues rank second only to purpose-built convention centres in attracting larger events.

So what is it that gives unusual and unique venues their particular appeal? It is undoubtedly the case that event organisers are seeking venues that offer much more of an experience and they are using the draw of the venue to attract delegates to their events. As a consequence, venues that offer more than just conference space are high on their shortlist. Unusual venues can frequently offer the ‘wow’ factor with unique, memorable experiences which cannot be duplicated in any other types of venue.

It is clear that businesses believe in the value of face-to-face interactions through meetings with their customers, their suppliers, and their staff. When the market is buoyant, there is confidence to invest more strongly in meetings, conferences and similar business events. As premium venues, the unique and unusual venues’ sector of the market can justify higher production values for the events they stage, as organisers seek to maximise the memorable experiences such venues can offer.

If you would like to find out more from the full UKCAMS report visit: www.ukcams.org.uk



The first insight that I had into the world of events was the massive global icon that takes place every couple of years in the heart of my constituency; Glastonbury. OK, a very good place to start, but a fitting one if we’re to understand what makes a great event, and why Britain is continually seen as ‘best practice’ in the world of global event management.

Since taking on the role of Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Events, my appreciation of the UK events industry has continued to grow, but my belief in it has never waned. From the outside spectacular of Glastonbury, to elite exhibitions, major set piece company conferences or small incentive programmes, the same things make each of these events.

For me great events capture the right mood, in the right place, at the right time.

It seems that the very best event organisers are given an almost psychic ability to capture the mood of a community, a company, or an organisation, and bring it together with content that inspires them. They pick their moment, and in Britain they have a veritable smorgasbord of options when it comes to meeting destinations and venues.

This is where unusual venues come into play. We should be rightly proud that an event organiser can host a business conference at a sporting stadium, a museum or a leisure attraction. It’s a brilliant way to capture the mood of a delegation, and then underline the message of the event.

For those visiting this country for events, the choice is vast; unusual venues are everywhere, each of them totally different but able to speak of their locality, and tell a tale of history, achievement, prowess, and of memories made.

We do many things incredibly well in this country, but it’s when all these elements come into play that we see true magic being created. The events industry is full of creative people, and they find amazing places to bring people together, from the classically conventional to the unique and unusual.

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Louise Goalen, Chair, HBAA

At our recent HBAA Forum, 2020 Vision, we included a series of ‘camp fire’ sessions for our members and one of the most popular groups was around ‘Creativity’ in events and how to unleash this. Within my other role at Top Banana, our clients are more often than not requesting cost effective, creative, and unusual venues that add a different dimension to their events and deliver the return on objectives they are looking for.

This is not a new trend, but one that continues to grow; unusual venues have become an important part of venue choice and one that continues to prove its viability. However, it’s important to recognise that the very nature of these venues means that their meetings and events business is not their primary organisational focus. That’s not to say they don’t care, and in many cases these venues have sophisticated meetings and events divisions and experienced industry practitioners; it is these businesses that have brought in a layer of increased professionalism and standards capable of competing and surpassing many more traditional venues.

However, in my two roles as both HBAA Chair and as a venue expert, I’m often responsible for educating new event organisers on the nuances of working with unusual venues so that they can get the very best result for their event.

Things like timing are important to remember. There may be a degree of business interruption and limitations on access to the venue at certain times of the year or week. There may also be issues around the type of event you can run both to protect and preserve more of the historic venues.

These instances are less and less frequent, as the venues continue to find ways of balancing the two demands on their business and say ‘yes’ to event organisers.

Making sure you’ve got a clear picture of how the space looks and feels is essential if you’re going to accurately map the delegate journey and create a successful event. It’s hard enough to do this in a conventional conference venue, but in unusual venues it’s a bit more tricky knowing who will go where, when and how. First-hand knowledge of the venue is especially important when you’re working in unusual event spaces.

In many cases unusual venues are large open areas with no clearly defined spaces for break outs or meetings. Having the vision to see how the venue can be divided up will help make best use of the available space for your planned event.  Make sure your production team knows what you’re trying to achieve through your event so they can use the space effectively and creatively ensuring you are delivering the maximum return on objectives for the client.

These venues often work best because they support your client organisation's brand values rather than clashing with them. This means the venue helps contribute to a seamless brand experience, vital to ensuring they leave with a clear understanding of the important event messages. There is a lot to consider when you work with unusual event venues so make sure you share the vision of the brief with them so they buy into the creative thinking you have developed for the event. Forming a collaborative partnership with the unusual venues will go a long way to delivering amazing events.

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Professionalising the U&U venue Market

Heather Lishman, ABPCO Association Director

Unique venues are an important sector for association conferences and events, and are regularly used by ABPCO members. Often these venues are effectively utilised for the main conference, or simply to add interesting bolt-on programmes, extension or incentive options to a wider conference package.

Many of our organisers have found that the choice of an unusual venue can support the wider conference message, and they use the host venue to underline a specific theme; be it motivational, health and fitness related, performance, or just inspirational. Delegates of association meetings care firstly about the content, but they are enticed and certainly excited by the choice of destination and venues; the option to visit iconic spaces such as Twickenham Stadium, Hever Castle and the like can be incredibly attractive.

Lime Venue Portfolio have given peace of mind to bookers looking to use these venues; by the promise of an established brand, simplification of the booking process, and professionalisation of the meetings and events offering within the portfolio. They are a one-stop shop for the diverse and unusual offering that can add real interest to a conference programme, and their portfolio is brimming with interesting and inspirational venues. ABPCO are delighted to have LVP as a partner, and will watch with interest as this sector matures and continues to perform.

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Why Unusual Venues are Better for Attendee Education

Hannah Luffman, MD, Unicorn Events

Children move through different stages of learning. Babies learn through exploring their senses. Through colour, sound, physical stimulus. After the age of two, toddlers learn in the same way, but they have the ability to apply logic and reason. After the age of seven children are able to start considering external factors and emotions and thus their reasoning and logic continues to develop.

This means that with younger children we need to educate them in ways that are personalised to them but as they grow they are educated through channels that help them make sense of the world around them.

Young children also learn holistically, so providing they have active sensory development there is no need to separate their learning into subject groups. We just need to ensure there is creative play available to develop their language, logic, imagination and communication skills.

The biggest change as we get older isn't the way that we learn it is the way we interpret and understand our education. Adults have an ability to apply a number of social and external factors to their learning. We have a wealth of experience to draw upon but we also have a great number of preconceived ideas on how that message will affect us.

A creative learning environment for an adult draws on our understanding of education through the senses but respects that we require the external environment and factors to mirror those messages as our brains are too mature to not consider all aspects of our experience.

Enter the unusual venue market. Not only is it less work and usually cost effective to use a venue that already enhances your messaging, it is

key to enforcing the event objectives from day one. Using a venue that the audience associate with positive sensory experiences will help them both better retain information and remember the learning as a time they were happy.

People accept event invitations both on the content and expectations of learning, but also on the perceived experience. You are far more likely to accept an exhibition invitation to the Victoria and Albert Museum than you are to another hotel conference room. The hotel conference room sets the tone of the sort of event it will be before you have even agreed to attend. Besides, what would you instagram?

The bizarre thing about the conference and meetings industry is we wouldn’t ask a nursery group to sit in straight rows facing forwards while one person talked to them for an hour. How could you ever expect their brains and short attention spans to learn from that format? Do we respond to conferencing as adults or are we told that is the new grown up format for learning? Surely the best way to learn is to still go in and do it yourself.

Unusual venues also help adult learners to feel safe within their education. You’re far more likely to play ball on a murder mystery night if you’re in a haunted castle than you are in a standard conference room. It makes the learner feel less silly as they are fully immersed in the experience. It’s why many actors come to light on stage but struggle with improvisation at the local town hall.

Budgets, management and a whole host of external factors block our ability to create unusual experiences in unusual venues. Yet if we can successfully argue the logic of education retention in a creative setting, there really isn’t a reason not to try it out.

U&U Venue Report: Have your say

  • Have you seen an increase in confirmed business 2018 v. 2017 to date? How would you rate it?
  • In which sectors of the market have you seen most growth?
  • Have you seen more of these event sectors combining e.g. incentives with conferences, conferences with banquets etc.?
  • Have you seen an increase in external agencies or individuals getting involved on a creative / production level?
  • Have you seen an increase or decrease in lead times for event bookings?
  • Are you seeing more evidence of an increase in the importance of food at events?
  • Do you believe the unusual venue market has become the usual now?
  • Are you optimistic about the next 12 months for the unique and unusual venue market?


Lime Venue Portfolio

The unique and unusual venue market attracts a great deal of warmth from event professionals; why wouldn't it, it encompasses the UK's heritage, its culture and it's hobbies. And, despite the fact that hotels and conference centres hold the volume, it's this sector that holds the value, and that remains the promotional focal point for the country's meetings and events industry.

So maybe it's time for this sector to grow in confidence, grow in stature and continue to grow it's dominance within the events industry. It's no longer a 'nice to have', it's now a 'must have'. It's no longer a plucky contributor, it's an integral part of the venue landscape.

Who knows where the industry would be without unique and unusual venues? They give new reasons to have events, they stimulate creative organisers, they sell the industry and they provide a contemporary image of it. Great people are working within unique and unusual venues every day; important event professionals are commenting on them, and holding them up as examples of best practice, many are in this report.

At Lime Venue Portfolio we'll continue to play our role as one of the big supporters in this sector. This report is the just the beggining and we'll continue to provide updates and more insights from senior commentators in this industry. Until then, please let us know your own thoughts; submit video, blogs, comments and opinions to marketing@limevenueportfolio.com and we'll add them to the report and share them with our community.

New data is released later this year, so look out for more updates!

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