The 2015 Rugby World Cup is set to attract more visitors than any previous tournament, delivering huge economic benefits to the country and giving hospitality operators an unprecedented opportunity to boost profits. Elly Earls rounds up the top 10 ways for businesses to capitalise on the excitement
The countdown to the 2015 Rugby World Cup (RWC) has well and truly begun. The tournament will kick off on 18 September and run for six weeks across 13 venues in 11 cities, including London, Cardiff, Manchester and Newcastle, and has been forecast to bring more economic benefits to the country than any other rugby event.
Indeed, a recent report by EY on behalf of the tournament's organisers predicted that it would generate up to £2.2b of output into the economy, add up to £982m in value to the national GDP, attract more international visitors than any other Rugby World Cup and deliver nearly £1b of additive value into the UK economy, presenting hospitality operators with an unprecedented opportunity to boost profits.
"With rugby supporters travelling the length and breadth of the country for the best part of a month, this is a huge opportunity for tourism accommodation providers, local attractions, restaurants and bars as well as many others to benefit," tourism minister Tracey Crouch told delegates at the British Hospitality Association's Hospitality and Tourism Summit.
1. Get ahead of the game
The build-up to the big event is just as important to boosting profits as what goes on during the tournament itself, so don't wait until kick-off to get your rugby-related promotions started.
Activities at Young's Pubs are already well under way; for example, its 'Players at the Pumps' series in collaboration with children's rugby charity Wooden Spoon, which sees rugby legends pull pints for punters before having a quick Q&A session with them, has been going strong since April.
North East pub Beyond Bar & Grill at the Gate is also well ahead of the game. On 31 July, the venue will join up with Heineken, a worldwide partner of RWC 2015, to offer one customer the chance to join the captains for the pre-match coin toss at the New Zealand vs Tonga match at St James' Park, ahead of the big game.
"We're delighted to be able to offer our customers the chance to win this exclusive prize. It's a fantastic way for us to kick-start the programme of activities we have planned," says the pub's owner John Adamson.
2. Give something back
Teaming up with rugby charities not only allows operators to give something back; it also creates a buzz around their venue.
London-based Indian restaurant Cinnamon Kitchen, for example, will partner with rugby children's charity Wooden Spoon to host celebrity cook-off 'Scrum Dine With Me' on 29 September. Marketing manager Helen Geach expects to sell all 100 tickets available, raising tens of thousands of pounds for charity and getting a marketing boost for the restaurant.
"Events like these get the Cinnamon Kitchen name out there; the City is a very competitive market, so it's important we work hard to stay in people's minds," she says.
During the competition, rugby icons including Phil Vickery, Ollie Phillips and Lee Mears will cook their own creations throughout a four-course battle overseen by Cinnamon Kitchen's executive chef Vivek Singh and a panel of esteemed judges. And, if the last Scrum Dine With Me, which took place in 2011, is anything to go by, there'll be plenty of laughs too.
"A highlight [from 2011] would have to be Zinzan Brooke's impromptu haka in the middle of the dining room!" Geach recalls. "And, of course, the fantastic amount of money [£42,000] raised for Wooden Spoon."
3 Find a fanzone
Over one million people are expected to head to the 15 free fanzones that will be set up around the country during the RWC. According to EY, these alone could bring in up to £13m in revenue, much of it from food and drink.
The Manchester fanzone, which will run on 9-11 October in the city's central Albert Square, for example, will be much more than a place for visitors to watch the games - it is also set to host some of the best street food traders in the city and will be inviting local restaurants to get in on the act of feeding hungry rugby fans too. A specially created Rugby Restaurant Village may also be on the cards.
Local chef Robert Owen Brown, formerly of riverside pub Mark Addy, was one of the first to sign up to participate in the event, and he couldn't be more excited. "Rugby fans are a hungry, thirsty bunch, and I feel quite honoured to be one of the people representing our city feeding them," he grins.
"We're going to be welcoming guests from around the globe and the food offering should reflect that - I'm serving up traditional English fish and chips from my specially created seafood trawler, and I believe the other participants will be representing many of the other nationalities involved in the event."
4. Get your screens up to scratch
As Charley Taylor-Smith, head of hospitality events and business development at the Deck, a rooftop events venue at the National Theatre, stresses: "The focus for your rugby-themed package should always come back to the game. It is vital to ensure you have enough screens and top-quality sound to ensure your event exudes that essential match atmosphere."
The Deck at the National Theatre
At the Deck, the RWC package, which is available for groups of 50-120, with exclusive hire of the venue for five hours, includes a three-course rugby-inspired barbecue menu, unlimited drinks, and, of course, the game shown on top-of-the-range plasma screens with surround sound.
Similarly, at the Crystal at the Royal Victoria Docks, one of the world's most sustainable buildings, games will be screened in its state-of-the-art cinema for groups of between 20 and 270 people, with drinks and a variety of hot and cold food options also included.
5. Make the snacks match the sport
Rugby-themed meals and snacks are a surefire way to make your RWC promotions as authentic as possible - but do think about the practicalities, too. "The presentation of your food and its taste sensations are some of your best tools for ensuring your venue stands out from the crowd," Taylor-Smith emphasises. "Handheld hearty food is a guaranteed crowd-pleaser."
At the Gordon Ramsay group, for example, Bread Street Kitchen will be serving sliders of pork belly, black pudding and apple sauce; haggis and single malt gravy; salt beef, pickled cabbage and potato bread; and leek and rarebit cheeses slices. Meanwhile Heddon Street Kitchen's snacks include chilli cheese dogs, wings, and cheesy chips and gravy.
6. Raise a glass to raise profits
A big game isn't a big game if it isn't washed down with a healthy glug of the good stuff, so whether it's rugby-themed cocktails created especially for the event or extremely well-stocked beer fridges, make sure there's plenty of booze at the ready.
At Cinnamon Kitchen's neighbouring cocktail bar Anise, for example, RWC packages include a bucket of wine, a bucket of beers or a combination of the two, while customers can also order a special rugby-themed shooter package (£25 for six).
Elsewhere, mixologists at TwoRuba bar and restaurant at London Hilton Tower Bridge will be creating RWC-themed cocktails. "Screening the games is one thing, but extra activity like this really helps us to create more memorable experiences for the customer," says general manager Stephane Weit.
Meanwhile, the Gordon Ramsay group is largely keeping it simple; Heineken is included with most packages, or for something slightly more special, Bread Street Kitchen will be offering a cocktail called 'The Conversion', which is a mix of Picon Aperitif, Grey Goose l'orange, Regan's orange bitters, agave syrup and lemon juice, topped up with - yep, you guessed it - Heineken.
7. Put your best player forward
Whether it's spectacular views, up-to-the-minute technology or a prime location, take what's special about your venue and highlight it during the tournament.
For Forman's Fish Island, which is only a five-minute walk from London's Olympic Stadium and has been dubbed a 'salmon theme park' by London Mayor Boris Johnson, it's the combination of quirkiness and location that's likely to draw the crowds. "As the closest, quirkiest, luxury venue in the area, with the best views (from our roof terrace - literally overlooking the Olympic stadium), our venue is spot on for these stadium events," says the venue's head of events, sales and marketing Holly Burrows.
And once the customers arrive, they're unlikely to be disappointed with the RWC offering, which has been fully tailored to rugby fans (see below).
Similarly, at the Hilton London Wembley and the Hilton London Syon Park, which is close to Twickenham Stadium, the hotels' teams will be playing on their venues' unparalleled locations. The former, which is located just metres from Wembley stadium, will host fans and supporters as well as screening all the key games on large screens and offering rugby-themed menus, while the latter will promote its unique combination of being a haven in the listed Syon Park Estate and within walking distance of Twickenham Stadium.
8. Go VIP
Private bookable areas are a great way for venues to increase customer numbers during the RWC, as both TwoRuba and Young's are hoping to demonstrate.
At TwoRuba, the venue's private area will be renamed 'TwoRugby' and offered as a bookable space for customers to watch the games, complete with a special food and drinks package. "Of course, many bars will show the rugby, but we hope our bookable TwoRugby area will ensure we become a destination for rugby fans, which in turn will increase revenue and boost profits," Weit says.
Patrick Dardis, retail director at Young's, has also decided to offer VIP Hospitality Boxes in some of the group's pubs. "These will have personalised HD TV screens and fully-stocked Heineken minibars and can be booked out by groups wanting to enjoy a game, with the aim to have a positive effect on our revenue and guest numbers," he explains.
9. Follow the crowds
One North East event, the Oyster Festival, has decided to completely relocate in order to attract more guests.
"The North East Oyster Festival, traditionally held at Hardwick Hall hotel in Sedgefield, is one of the North East's premier corporate events, annually attracting more than 1,500 guests," says John Adamson, owner of Ramside Estates, the organiser of the festival.
"But this year we're taking the event on tour for the first time in its 12-year history and moving it to the 2,000 capacity Rugby World Cup Fan Zone marquee in Newcastle, to coincide with the fixtures being held at St James's Park. Ramside Event Catering is also working in partnership with Newcastle Falcons for the Fan Zone and we hope that combining the two will attract a new audience to the festival and really make the most of the city centre location."
10. Learn from the experience
Surrey-based Pennyhill Park, an Exclusive Hotel & Spa, will be hosting the England team during RWC 2015, and the hotel sees the whole experience as a chance to learn and better the business in the future.
"We are extremely proud that Exclusive has held a close association with England rugby for several years and as a team we enjoy the sense of excitement and camaraderie among our guests and across our entire business while the season is in full swing, and are confident that 2015 will be no exception," says general manager Julian Tomlin.
"We also see the continued hosting of the England team at Pennyhill Park as a key opportunity to create a legacy for our own business, using the experience to benefit our people and our operations for years to come."
Prepare rugby packages
At riverside restaurant and bar Forman's Fish Island, which is just a stone's throw from the Olympic Stadium, the team is already getting excited about the possibilities the Rugby World Cup will bring.
"Large events like this can create exciting commercial opportunities and entice new people to the area, which is always positive," says head of events, sales and marketing Holly Burrows. She says that the special rugby packages the team has created are already proving popular among corporates, families and regulars to the venue. These include pre-game dining packages with live smoked salmon carving, post-game barbecues on the roof terrace, which offers incredible views of the stadium, and live screenings of matches from around the country.
Forman's Fish Island
"We were lucky enough to have also had the 2012 Olympic Games next door, which created a huge buzz for the area and the restaurant and we hope this next special international sporting event will bring with it interest, fresh customers, increased footfall, and exciting new event opportunities - for us and fellow local businesses. Who wouldn't want that?"
Create a calendar of activity
For Patrick Dardis, retail director at Young's Pubs, where the build-up to the RWC started back in April, any sporting event provides a real opportunity for pubs to engage with their customers, but this particular one is especially close to the group's heart.
"We have always had a great affinity with [rugby] and wanted to create an experience that not only excites our customers that we know are passionate about rugby, but positions us as a place to enjoy quality food, excellent beer and hopefully an exciting game or two," he says.
To achieve this, Young's has teamed up with Wooden Spoon, the children's charity of rugby, to create a calendar of activity throughout its portfolio of pubs and hotels. "From regular Player at the Pumps events, whereby a rugby legend gets behind the bar to pull a few pints alongside a Q&A session, to opportunities to win Rugby World Cup 2015 final tickets via a raffle courtesy of Heineken, we wanted to show that we were not only interested in the tournament but committed to its success," Dardis says.
Young's aims to raise £100,000 throughout the campaign for Wooden Spoon via ticket sales, an exclusive ale created specifically for the partnership and raffles and donation boxes.
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