Client: Liberal Democrats
Event: Party conference fringe events
Group size: 6,000-7,000
Date: 19-23 September 2009
Venue: Bournemouth Highcliff Marriott Hotel
The Brief: The Bournemouth Highcliff Marriott was selected by the Liberal Democrats as the headquarters hotel for the party conference. This meant that the entire property was given over to exclusive use for the duration of the five days, accommodating many senior figures and hosting around 150 fringe events.
Challenges: The Highcliff was far from being the sole venue for the week - the main conference was held at the Bournemouth International Centre, while other hotels such as The Connaught also staged fringe events. But its HQ status meant intricate planning was key. Although the hotel had been aware of the residency for more than a year, it was only 12-15 weeks prior to the conference that details the fringe events were confirmed. The hotel, therefore, needed to work with a number of individual event coordinators to finalise times, capacities and AV requirements. All of the hotel's 18 meeting spaces were used.
Execution: "I've done a lot of political conferences and we've got a good system in place," says Deborah Crabb, the hotel's senior events manager. "We divide the hotel into different zones and have a zone manager for each section, who looks after specific function rooms. The week required a lot of planning meetings, from catering upwards, but it worked well."
Given the timings of the main conference, fringe events generally took place over breakfast, lunch or in the early evening. "Some rooms were hosting two or three sessions in quick succession, so often we only had a half-hour turnaround."
Verdict: A large number of fringe event organisers gave positive feedback to the hotel, and the party itself was pleased with the smooth execution. "For the second year running, the Highcliff Marriott valiantly endured five days of wall-to-wall Lib Dems, and they should be commended for continuing to smile throughout," says Sian Jenkins, assistant conference organiser. "There is a lot of pressure on any fringe venue, particularly the conference hotel."