We speak to the very first venue finding agent in the UK, Peter Rand, and explore how he helped to shape the industry into what it is today.
Peter Rand has had a long and fruitful career in the corporate events industry, and many major players at the forefront credit him as a mentor. Being the UK’s first venue finding agent, it’s no surprise that the mark he has left on the industry is considerable.
It seems that Peter was destined to work in the industry right from birth, as he explains: “I was born into the industry, in what is now the Royal Horseguards Hotel in London. It was apartments back in 1947 and my father was the house manager there. Wanting to get my foot in the door I was fortunate enough to get into Surrey University in 1965, which was the first university outside of America to offer a degree in hotel management.”
As an impressive career grew in hospitality, including managing a 4-star 100-bedroom hotel at the age of 24, Peter saw an opportunity that lead him to the then fairly new corporate meetings market: “Shortly after achieving my dream of being a hotel manager, I thought: ‘Do I want to do this forever?’ My ambition was to run my own business. I was working in this hotel which was very much focused on meetings and events and businesses would often say: ‘We can’t keep on coming back here, we’ve got to move this around the country. Where can we go?’ In those days there were a number of publications – AA guides and RAC guides – which helped people choose where to go for their holidays, but no one to tell a company where they would be best looked after in relation to meetings and conferences.”
Peter set up his company based on the premise of how hotels pay tour operators commission to bring in coaches of guests, realising that they would likely do the same if he were able to bring in quality conference bookings. On 10th December 1973 Peter Rand Conference Placements was born.
Peter has also worked to improve the industry and is even one of the founders of one of its most prominent associations and H&E North partner, the mia: “My mojo was to raise standards in the industry. I was always trying to make sure that the best venues got the business, and the worst venues didn’t. Back in 1988 we set up an industry code of conduct between venues and agents. That then developed into the Meetings Industry Association (the mia), which I was I was the Founder President of back in the early ’90s. To this day they’ve lasted very well. In fact, during the pandemic it was the mia that the government quoted as to the impact that COVID was having on the industry.”
When Peter started out in the industry, it looked a lot different than it does nowadays. One of the main differences he highlighted was the variety of venues which are available for corporate events: “There were very few non-hotels doing anything in the meetings sector. I’m not talking about the conference centres as a few non-residential centres were around. But in terms of residential mansion venues, there were very few of those at all. The very first one was Highgate House in Northampton, it had lots of rooms and was very focused on the meetings sector. There were very few unusual venues. I remember doing the very first conference at a National Trust venue. The hoops we had to go through to persuade them that actually it’s in their interest do corporate events!”
Peter has had the pleasure of watching the sector flourish into the powerhouse it is today over is 50 years in the business: “The meetings and events industry has certainly developed as an industry and a sector of hospitality since I started. With a level of expectation from customers which is much higher than it was. It’s an industry where the people running it, whether it’s agents or people in venues, really are proud of working within it, because they see contribution it is making to their clients.”