London reinvents itself by pioneering change and innovation

London was one of the world’s most visited international cities in 2018, attracting more than 19.1m visitors, of which 3.51 million were business visitors, whose spend was £2.48 billion, comprising 20 per cent of total visitor spend. The capital’s popularity endures.

Technology, enterprise, innovation, life sciences and gaming – a fast-growth sector, sustainability and tourism are all areas of expertise that London offers. “The city’s knowledge is a huge benefit for meeting planners because it can offer expert speakers to elevate event content,” says head of business events for London & Partners Paul Black. “And the enormous possibility for networking provides great access to potential event sponsorship.

“London’s ability to pioneer change and reinvent itself is a strong point, attracting a high level of repeat visitations of incentive groups from short and long-haul markets. This is really important – it allows each delegate to have a new experience on every visit,” he says.

Inevitably, it is not all plain sailing: prevarication over Brexit has caused some European planners to delay decisions about events, and although it has brought advantageous exchange rates, London & Partners continues to highlight how to get the best value out of the capital. Also, “Our international positioning is a key part of what is London,” says Black.

In addition, events come to the city – and come back – because it is safe. In 2019 alone, the sixth incarnation of London Tech Week took place from June 10-15, with some 55,000 delegates enjoying 250 events. “We had a really strong opening by the [then] Prime Minister Theresa May in Plexal, at HereEast, a campus for start-up tech in the Olympic Park,” he says; London Climate Action week ran from July 1-8, with more than 100 events; in September, Sibos brings an anticipated 10,000 financial service professionals, a vote of confidence for Fintech in London; and One Young World, a not-for-profit global forum for leaders aged 18-30 from more than 190 countries, lands in London in October to develop innovative solutions to the world’s most pressing problems.

Looking ahead, European Society of Cardiology (ESC) brings the ESC Congress back to London in 2021, European Association for the Study of Liver (EASL) returns in 2020 with more than 10,000 delegates and International Conference on Robotics and Automation arrives in 2023 (4,000).

Although London & Partners does not have a subvention scheme, there is an event industry fund run by VisitBritain, for which all UK destinations can pitch. This adds to appeals such as good communications – direct links with 401 destinations, diversity of product and investment in new venues, hotels and entertainment.

For a blank canvas, Magazine London has indoor (3,000) and outdoor showground (7,000) space on the Greenwich Peninsula; a new etc. venue at 133 Houndsditch comprises conference (700) and exhibition/event space. The Science Gallery London near London Bridge connects art, science and health, with cafes, courtyard (350) and theatre (124).

Overlooking the Thames from the south side, London’s first art’otel opens at Battersea Power Station in 2022, supported by two new tube stations nearby (2020). And The Theatre (1,300) at Alexandra Palace has reopened after 80 years to the tune of a £26.7m restoration.

New accommodation matches London’s lively venue vibe. The former BBC headquarters in White City is White City House, a Soho House club and hotel with 45 rooms and a cinema with three screening rooms; and Radisson Edwardian’s The Londoner has launched in Leicester Square with 350 rooms, ballroom (864 theatre), 7 meeting rooms, 33 syndicates and the services of AI chatbot Edward.

Keep delegates disciplined at The Dixon, in the former Tower Bridge Magistrates Court; and as part of a £1.15m renovation, Novotel London City South has breathed new life into its bar and restaurant with products from Borough Market suppliers. Next year, the City benefits from the opening of the Pan Pacific London in Bishopsgate Plaza, with 237 keys, ballroom (380 banquet) and six meeting rooms.

With the endless variety in innovation, atmosphere and expertise, London has earned its credentials as one of the world’s most visited cities. In short, it is rich pickings for event organisers.

Ask the expert 

Leigh Butterfield.

Leigh Butterfield, Director, 2B UK

A product launch for 200 people

We love the newly opened Illuminate at The Science Museum, which offers a flexible, blank canvas space that is available day and evening with amazing views across London and an abundance of daylight – perfect for a product launch.

A gala dinner for 100 people

For an intimate gala dinner, one of my favourite venues is the White Tower at the Tower of London. This is the oldest and perhaps the most iconic part of the Tower, where guests can enjoy the best of modern cuisine and décor surrounded by 1,000 years of history.

A team-building activity for 50

My ultimate London team building activity would be Record a Song at Abbey Road Studios. It is unique and personal, as guests get to record a song in the studio where the Beatles recorded 95% of their albums.

Case study

On May 8, 2019, the Science Museum’s annual Directors’ Dinner welcomed 375 international VIP guests, including stakeholders and funders of the group. The evening began with a cocktail and canapé reception in interactive space Wonderlab: The Equinor Gallery, followed by a seated dinner in the new Illuminate. Traditionally, the event has been held in one of the Science Museum galleries but this was a good opportunity to showcase the space on Levels 4 and 5.

There were keynote speeches by the director-general of CERN Professor Fabiola Gianotti and director of the Science Museum Group Sir Ian Blatchford. Both explored the importance of scientific curiosity, highlighted the successes of the past year and gave a glimpse into the Science Museum’s plans for the future.

To ignite guests’ curiosity and bring them closer to the work of the Science Museum, a team of Science Museum Explainers conducted experiments during the cocktail and canapé reception in Wonderlab: The Equinor Gallery.

In Illuminate, the floor to ceiling window gave panoramic views over London, providing a dramatic backdrop and talking point.