Movement Maker

Movement Maker: How London Is Fueling Growth for World-Shaping Brands

Movement Maker London

EMEA’s global event stage for innovation, sustainability, and culture.
Editor’s Note: Opus Agency is proud to showcase our clients and partners pushing the boundaries of what's possible on our collective journeys to improve how people experience and engage with the world around them. We do this through our Movement Maker editorial series, spotlighting the brands, places, and people who use events to catalyze movements. In the latest edition of the Movement Maker Series, I sat down with Andrew Swanston at ExCeL London and Josh Novick at London & Partners to learn more about why world-shaping brands choose London as their destination and ExCeL as their cutting-edge, sustainable venue partner. — Paula Mettler

In today's global marketplace, brands are exploring new destinations to expand their event portfolios and reach international audiences. Opus Agency’s London-based team has seen a significant trend in companies based in Asia and the Americas particularly keen on expanding into EMEA to host events.

London is a top choice for brands seeking to expand their event presence. The city is renowned for its accessibility, sustainability, and culture of innovation, offering limitless opportunities for hosting brands. In partnership with ExCeL, London's most prominent convention center, the city fosters growth for world-renowned brands.

Let’s dive into why more and more brands are heading to The Big Smoke for their events.

Innovation and Growth 

London Tech Week

London is a global hotspot for innovation, attracting business sectors like life sciences, technology, finance, and emerging industries like fintech and cryptocurrency. The city's allure lies in its ability to foster community, ease of connectivity, and thriving ecosystems conducive to business growth and innovation.

Last year's London Tech Week attracted 30,000 technology innovators and investors to over 70 events and exemplified the city's capacity to bring together top speakers and talent, facilitating a thriving business environment for global brands.

Underscoring this ecosystem's support structure, Josh Novick, VP of North American Business Tourism at London & Partners, adds, “We’re deeply committed to nurturing these dynamic environments. The bureau plays a crucial role in helping local and inbound companies scale and internationalize. This is achieved through strategic collaborations with the trade and investment arm to create a supportive environment that not only attracts but also sustains businesses.”

London's appeal to businesses, from tech giants like Salesforce and Google to smaller enterprises, is attributed to its comprehensive infrastructure of think tanks, incubators, and accelerators. This infrastructure fosters connections between companies and subject matter experts (SMEs), providing access to a vast pool of venture capital and investment opportunities.

Culture and Inclusion

East London Street Art | Photo: London & Partners

London is an iconic city that boasts a rich history and a vibrant cultural scene. As a global hub for business and innovation, it offers a spectrum of experiences for visitors. The city's melting pot of cultures draws millions of visitors annually, including leisure and business travelers, making it a truly global destination.

“London is a place where people have immigrated to and from, whether it's the historic Windrush movement from the Caribbean Islands or Asian students who come to study and make London their home,” shares Novick. “Feeling at home here is not difficult; you can always find a familiar comfort and sense of connection.”

Event planners have the opportunity to craft unique and memorable experiences that go beyond the conventional tourist itinerary. They can collaborate with local organizations to integrate the city's historical narrative into their events.

Hosting a reception within the Tower of London, complete with a private viewing of the Crown Jewels followed by dinner in The White Tower, offers a glimpse into history dating back to 1066. For those seeking a contemporary twist, take over the Sky Garden for its panoramic views or embark on interactive street art tours in East London to introduce attendees to the city's modern vibrancy. 

“One of my favorite things to do is explore East London,” shares Novick. “It’s where immigrants from all over have settled. Whether it was French Huguenot silk weavers or the South Asian community, you see influences all over Brick Lane. You can visit the historic homes of the Huguenots and grab a classic Jewish corned beef bagel or sample Indian sweets. There is an incredible chocolate shop, Dark Sugars, owned by Nyanga Mende, a Londoner of African descent. She sources fair trade chocolate from Africa, roasts it, and creates amazing chocolates.”

Sky Garden at 20 Fenchurch Street | Photo: Sky Garden

Accessibility and Travel 

Lambeth Station | Photo: London & Partners

While London is a natural choice for European brands, it is also an attractive destination for brands from Asia and North America because of its strong cultural and economic links in these regions. The city earned a top ranking in the latest International Passenger Survey (IPS) data, highlighting the city as a leading choice among United States visitors, the second most popular Chinese Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), and the foremost destination for Indian FDI in Europe. 

The city's international appeal has been evident recently, hosting numerous notable events, including:

The city’s geographical location and favorable position within the global time zones enable seamless business connections with Asia in the morning and the Americas in the afternoon. Its role as a bridge between the East and West is strengthened by its exceptional accessibility; the city has six international airports, including its largest, Heathrow Airport, which offers flights to over 390 cities—more than any other city worldwide. Additionally, the Eurostar train provides direct routes to major European cities like Paris, Brussels, Rotterdam, and Amsterdam.

Recent developments in transportation, such as the new high-speed Elizabeth Line train, enhance connectivity within London and beyond. This service enables quick travel from Heathrow to the city center in about 30 minutes and ExCeL London in 45-50 minutes, making it easier for industry professionals to navigate the greater London area and access major UK cities through direct rail links.

The convenience of London's transport infrastructure is a key factor in its attractiveness for hosting events. According to Novick, "Brands hosting events in London benefit from unparalleled connectivity. Event planners can organize a morning event in the city, attend an in-person meeting in Paris by the afternoon, and return to their London hotel by evening. The ability to have such a productive 24-hour experience is truly unique to the capital.”

Elizabeth Line | Photo: Shutterstock

London’s hotel scene remains a world class product fitting the needs and budgets of any type of traveler. 33 new properties opened in 2023, with 16 of those being either four or five-star, including the glamorous Peninsula London and the innovative Raffles at the OWO, which preserves London’s history with luxury incorporating the walls of The Old War office famous for Churchill’s speeches from the grand staircase. Those looking for a more comfortable, affordable option can unwind at the CitizenM London Bankside with its quirky design and central location, or the Z Soho, which offers easy access to the iconic Soho shopping and theatre district.

Premier Venues: ExCeL London Spotlight

ExCeL Aeriel Exterior | Photo: ExCeL London

Brand Activation and Storytelling

For more than 25 years, ExCeL, London’s leading, award-winning conference center, has partnered with brands like Adobe, AWS, Gartner, Google, Salesforce, and others to bring event messaging to life in innovative ways. With more than 1.2 million square feet, ExCeL provides a ton of flexibility within the venue and public spaces. Event planners can utilize the venue, including function spaces, external spaces, and the central boulevard, to create engaging attendee experiences. 

One of the advantages of ExCeL is the multitude of branding and media opportunities within the venue. ExCeL is a multi-tenancy venue, and with over 400 branding sites available, each event can create immersive "worlds" within the venue. When attendees walk into the dedicated zone, they enter a branded ecosystem, and the coffee shops, the central boulevard area, and the entrances from the multiple subway stations are all branded so that organizers feel a sense of ownership of the space.

In partnership with ExCeL’s dedicated creative teams, planners utilize outdoor and ingress/egress areas to design immersive environments, leveraging in-house media support for digital signage and creative.

Salesforce World Tour | Photo: London & Partners
Partnering for Impact

ExCeL collaborates closely with brands and local organizations to enhance social responsibility initiatives, recognizing them as integral to modern events. Their dedicated team provides complimentary support, advice, and connections to facilitate meaningful partnerships. Examples include their past collaborations with Formula E and the London International Horse Show, where they supported local charities, and legacy projects like ICRA, which sparked interest in robotics among school children and garnered £1.4 million in media coverage. Additionally, initiatives such as the International Liver Congress partnership with local schools delivered talks to students and provided opportunities for them to attend the event.

“We're deeply invested in assisting organizers and clients in aligning events with CSR objectives through our network and local connections,” shares Andrew Swanston, Head of Sales at ExCeL London. “We collaborate with organizers to understand and achieve their unique goals and values. Increasingly, organizers seek our support, adopting or replicating our initiatives in other cities for lasting impact. This approach ensures events leave a positive ‘handprint’ on the community.”

Regarding sustainability, ExCeL is leading the industry in two core areas: (1) through sustainable venue practices and (2) through top-notch organizer services. ExCeL has been carbon neutral since 2022, and they have a net-zero target (50% emissions reduction) by 2030. They’ve also been zero waste-to-landfill since 2012 and are ISO accredited. Last year, they had a 67% reduction in fuel consumption and launched their popular Sustainability Strategy. They offer a dedicated sustainability manager to guide event planners through the entire event lifecycle, advising them on best practices such as isla’s TRACE System and providing sustainability-first catering models through the ExCeL London Hospitality team.

Swanston adds, “We’re the largest venue in the UK to achieve carbon neutrality. Since the London 2012 Summer Olympic Games, we’ve sent zero waste to landfills. The Olympic Games catalyzed our operations and the entire area around ExCeL, as it became the epicenter of activity. This event challenged us and other venues in the area to align with sustainability goals. Since then, we’ve launched our own Sustainability Strategy to achieve an overall net zero emissions by 2050. We inform our organizers about our sustainability efforts, and most are eager to join our mission and align with our practices, noting that we’re ahead of the curve compared to other venues internationally.” 

2024 Expansion

Later this year, ExCeL is debuting a 270,000 sqft expansion project featuring modern, state-of-the-art multi-use event space, waterfront and greenspace, advanced digital infrastructure, and 5G connectivity (the first venue in the UK to offer it), focusing primarily on attendee welfare and comfortability. 

“Meetings and events play a pivotal role in fostering collaboration and innovation for event attendees,” shares Swanston. “Delegate welfare is the key consideration to organizers and global brands. Access to natural daylight, fresh air, water, and greenspaces enhance the attendee experience and spark inspiration.”

This forthcoming expansion enhances the appeal for global brands seeking to host cutting-edge conferences. In 2018, the ExCeL team conducted site visits to multiple Tier 1 destinations, like Vancouver, San Diego, and Sydney, to assess their operations and glean insights into their best practices. 

Whereas previous phases emphasized functional aspects of the space, this next phase prioritizes attendee experience by providing expansive function areas and private spaces for attendees to relax, attend to personal matters, and engage in informal networking. 

“I often find myself in other convention spaces, where the absence of natural light is disorienting and taxing on mental well-being,” shares Swanston. “The next phase of our expansion prioritizing creating environments conducive to mental wellness. Additionally, many of our clients have expressed feeling overshadowed in large venues. To address this, we’ve collaborated with architects to design the space in a way that offers flexibility for events of various sizes. The expansion caters to the immediate needs of attendees and provides scalability for clients looking to expand their events on the property."

Future Forward

ExCeL Expansion Rendering | Photo: ExCeL London

The city is growing rapidly due in part to the meeting and incentives sector. Brands have the best places to meet, connect, and do business, from continuous new hotel and venue openings to upcoming multi-million-pound rejuvenation projects like ExCeL London. 

As ExCeL continues to grow, so does the economic impact of the MICE industry in London. It’s the mission of London & Partners to create economic growth that is resilient, sustainable, and inclusive. Fully aligned with the mayor’s ambitious goals of net-zero carbon and zero pollution by 2023 and zero waste by 2025, London is also a signatory to the Glasgow Declaration, leading the charge for a greener future of global tourism

"We're driven by a vision of a thriving London: an economic powerhouse built on resilience, sustainability, and inclusivity,” adds Novick. “London is a natural stage for the world's most impactful events, attracting diverse talent and fostering innovation.”

From lush parks, enchanting histories, and captivating attractions to LEED-certified venues and seamless transportation networks, London is a compelling choice for business events—one that’s sustainable, inspiring, and unifying for attendees.

Watch this space to see how London and ExCeL continue to Make Moves for world-shaping brands. Ready to move? Say hello to Opus Agency’s London team.

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