UK organiser Clarion has been criticised by several exhibitors following serious operational issues at its debut Bluewater Spirit of Christmas.
Spirit of Christmas is the first consumer show to take place at the Glow events venue at Bluewater, commencing on the day the venue officially opened. The event ran from 30 November to 4 December and is one in a series of shows and experiential-led events Clarion plans to launch at the new venue in the next 12 months.
Spirit of Christmas attracted 250 exhibitors, many of which participate in Clarion’s longstanding Spirit of Christmas show at Olympia in West London. However, poor attendance and a series of operational and marketing concerns have left several calling for their money back.
Complaints included insufficient marketing in and around Bluewater leading to inadequate advanced ticket sales; inappropriate efforts by Clarion to attract shoppers into the five-day event; a lack of directional signage and misinformation about the position of the events venue within the retail mall.
Exhibitors talking to EN expressed particular disappointment with Clarion’s decision to stop selling tickets to the show on the afternoon of the first day and allow visitors to enter for free. As a result of the show’s poor performance, 16 of the 250 exhibitors chose to pack up before it officially closed.
“The mix of quality and market stalls there gave the show a market feel and we wouldn’t have paid for that,” one exhibitor said. “Some exhibitors were lucky to make £250 a day.”
“This is not the marketing, advertising nor customer we as exhibitors have paid for and we certainly would not have paid for a stand at a free show in a shopping centre,” another exhibitor said. Technical issues within the venue added to the woes.
In response, Clarion CEO Simon Kimble said the organiser was now talking to each exhibitor individually to understand the different issues they experienced and work out appropriate compensation. Among the options suggested by exhibitors as an offer are part-cash refunds for stand sales, discounts on future Clarion events and database access.
“There are a lot of disgruntled and disappointed people with a host of different issues we are trying to get our heads around,” he told EN. “It was a major setback and very disappointing.
“Over the next two to three weeks, we are committed to talking to each exhibitor to understand these issues and by going through that process, we can come up with a series of ways forward in a fair, equal and professional manner.
“We can’t answer specific issues at this stage as we don’t have all the answers to all the questions. What we are doing is getting these issues together to work out the right response.
“We take responsibility - clearly serious issues have been raised and we need to make sure those exhibitors are taken care of.”
Clarion had not expected its Bluewater Spirit of Christmas show to attract the same types of visitors as its longstanding West London event, Kimble said, but he admitted the organiser was still working out the best way to run events at the new venue.
“This is a learning curve for all of us,” Kimble continued. “Will it change our way of thinking around running events at Bluewater? Yes certainly, and we need to work out what will and what won’t work. We have to work through the ideas and think about it carefully.”
Despite the setback and the difficult economic climate, Kimble reiterated his support of Glow as an events venue. He also pointed out Clarion’s next shows at Bluewater, including Christmas in New York and the Festive Food Fair, represented different types of Christmas-theme events.
“Of our 250 exhibitors at Spirit of Christmas there were a significant minority that did well, so we want to take time looking at the whole picture and understand all the noise,” he added.
For its part, Glow is working to address thetechnical issues with mobile phone connectivity and signage and is confident of improving both next time, venue director Rebecca Cardozo said.
“We have taken the feedback from customers on signage and accept that it isn’t adequate, so we’re on it right now and people will find that issue resolved for our next event,” she said. “From our perspective, we had a great build-up and breakdown within the asset and had a lot of happy visitors who had a great time.
“It’s a new breed of venue and in the main, we got it right from a venue experience perspective. We’ll look at what did and didn’t work and get it right next time.”
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