How left- or right-brained are you? It’s a question London & Partners asked more than 600 event organizers this year to better understand the extent to which sensory experiences are being integrated into meetings, incentives and events. Given that the senses mark the cornerstone of our experiences, the shift toward multisensory experiences just makes sense—nearly 80 percent of those surveyed believe they also enrich the overall takeaway for attendees.
London has been exploring the creative side of meetings since the Summer Olympics swept through the city in 2012, sparking a wave of new development and what Tracy Halliwell, director of business tourism and major events, calls the “blue dinosaur” effect.
“The Olympics really left everyone thinking of what they could do that hadn’t been done. Some interesting ideas came out of it—much of it had to do with reimagining unexpected space or looking at things from a creative, right-brain perspective.”
New takes on traditional spaces has been at the forefront of MICE planning throughout London. Seven of the roughly forty-six abandoned tube stations on the London Underground network are currently being explored by London & Partners as potential venues. High on the list is a Mayfair station in West London—being brought back to life as either a gallery or restaurant—where Winston Churchill once hunkered down during the Blitz of WWII. Beneath the River Thames, one of the world’s first underground theatres, the Thames Tunnel Shaft, has re-opened after a 150-year hiatus as the Brunel Museum’s Grand Entrance Hall performance venue. Likewise, the iconic Brewer Street Car Park in the heart of Soho has become London Fashion Week’s official home.
The London Museum of Water & Steam, redeveloped and reopened in 2013, and Kempton Steam Museum, offering tours, event space and a guest “driver” experience that places groups in control of the world’s largest triple-expansion steam pumping engine still in action, are two of hottest venues around, while the 1920s Regent Street Cinema has been restored and updated with state-of-the-art audio and video. Halliwell adds St. Paul’s Cathedral to this list as a must-experience venue.
“It’s a crypt in one of the most famous cathedrals in the world—an amazing, stunning venue that you can actually do stuff with,” she says.
As expected, sensory experiences are high on the agenda throughout the city, with dining in the dark, venues in open-air markets, interactive drumming sessions with the Drum Café, and things like cutting edge projection mapping techniques to create visual illusions (think of The Incredible Hulk holding up the historic Tower Bridge). Dinner in the Sky is an adrenaline-filled dining experience that takes place at a table suspended by crane over some the world’s most iconic landscapes. The concept has evolved much since kicking off in Brussels in 2006, with Meeting in the Sky, Opera in the Sky, Events in the Sky and a range of other themed programs now available to groups.
North of London, sensory engagement continues on in Newcastle-Gateshead, home to one of the world’s most prized beverages, Earl Grey tea. After enjoying a brew, groups can dart off to Alnwick Castle in nearby Northumberland, best known as Hogwarts Castle in the first two Harry Potter films, for broomstick training, or dine in Alnwick Garden’s treehouse, one of the largest in the world. At Blackfriars’ 14th century banquet hall and workshop, medieval lectures, cookery classes and team building regularly take place. Top off these experiences with steel drum or fiddle music sessions at the Sage Gateshead, or immerse groups in their own story at Tyneside’s Pop-Up Film School.