Jo Rodger shares the secrets of a successful corporate hospitality programme at Yorkshire Sculpture Park

SP Visitor Centre & Henry Moore, Reclining Figure Bunched, 1985 - © PHOTO The Henry Moore Foundation, Jonty Wilde

Yorkshire Sculpture Park (YSP) is an internationally renowned cultural flagship, presenting work by some of the world’s most extraordinary artists in over 500 acres of historic parkland and five galleries. It was founded over 35 years ago but it was not until the opening of the YSP Visitor Centre in 2002 and the Underground Gallery in 2005 that our corporate hospitality business started to take shape.

We enjoyed a surge in visitors as a result of a step change in artistic programming and visitor facilities which these new buildings provided. The purpose built conference facilities also helped the hospitality business reach an annual income of £100k. However, with this success came extra pressure on the operation and a rise in visitor expectations that tested both resources and delivery. The YSP management team became concerned that we had entered the market almost too quickly and were determined to deliver the highest standards and ensure YSP’s reputation as a major arts venue remained excellent.

With this in mind we undertook a thorough review of the business to improve the offer and to ensure YSP conferencing was a more integral part of the wider YSP experience. Conference packages were reviewed, benchmarking exercises conducted with national and regional arts, park and heritage venues, and guidance sought from YSP’s Executive and Founding Director Peter Murray, the latter essential to ensure the ethos of YSP was never lost in the process. Our confidence grew as smaller steps were taken to examine what could successfully be done with the hire space and as we evaluated and defined trading opportunities. Bookings continued to be strong and in 2007 we launched the new brand ‘Inspired Hospitality & Conferencing’. We were confident that the YSP Centre provided the right conference space and we focused on our unique strengths of art and landscape. We also ensured that clients knew about our ideal location, just one mile from Junction 38 of the M1, and other facilities including ample free parking for delegates and excellent in-house catering.

Today corporate hospitality at YSP generates over £200k annually and the team has been recognised with recent awards including the White Rose Award for Business Tourism 2011 and Business Insider Unique Venue of the Year and Team of the Year 2010. We try to be creative and inventive when designing hospitality packages and always look to the exhibition programme for inspiration. Sometimes it’s both art and landscape that help us design an event: the Sunrise in the James Turrell Skyspace gives visitors an exclusive out-of-hours experience.

Although facilities haven’t expanded we have made improvements to maximise available space and update technology. A moveable, soundproof wall was installed between the auditorium and smaller boardroom, allowing us to book two events simultaneously, and the introduction of Internet access and hearing loops in the YSP Centre was essential.

The team has grown from a single Co-ordinator to include a full-time Conference and Hospitality Manager and part-time Co-ordinator, as well as student support. This team works extremely closely with the catering and front of house teams to ensure every event runs smoothly and we continue to provide a personal touch and friendly approach. All the while we carefully consider all potential bookings to ensure there is no conflict with the YSP’s ethos as an indoor and outdoor gallery.

As the catering offer has grown across the Park with the opening of two new outlets and expansion of our coffee bar, staffing has increased and roles developed to support day-to-day operations alongside the conference and hospitality offer. Changes were made to both structure and working hours and training and personal development were undertaken to ensure staffing supported the demands of the operation. As part of this, roles of operational staff have also changed to encourage a team approach to set-up and delivery, which makes a huge difference to the quality of the experience for the client.

Maintaining the ethos of YSP, working alongside the artistic programme and understanding what works for the operation has been key to our continued success. We keep the needs of YSP as a gallery and educative resource and our ‘core’ day visitors in mind at all times, focusing on evening hospitality at weekends when the restaurant is available for exclusive hire and we promote facilities to the weekend family market who are interested in hospitality at a unique venue.

Due to YSP’s budget constraints our marketing budget remains minimal so we work closely with the park’s marketing team to drive value for money and impact in the small amount of print, advertising, web and social media that we do. We use on-site promotion to raise awareness of facilities to core visitors, the newly designed website provides background information and downloads, and we distribute quarterly e-newsletters which specifically target the corporate business. Partnerships help to increase our reach regionally: we are members of destination management organisation Welcome to Yorkshire and regional consortium Yorkshire’s Magnificent Attractions, and recently we became members of the Meetings Industry Association, reinforcing our commitment to excellence. In these challenging economic times we are looking to improve awareness with companies who have not used YSP before. We do, however, have a strong repeat user base and enjoy excellent word-of-mouth recommendation, therefore focusing and maintaining a high quality offer is essential for our continued success.

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