WHEN the credit crunch struck, one of the first casualties was, not surprisingly, the business lunch.

As companies pulled in their horns it was corporate hospitality that felt the reduction in the ‘prawn sandwich’ brigade the most keenly.

Even if companies were prepared to continue spending on entertaining, the theory went, would it look right in times of cutbacks and financial prudence?

For corporate hospitality leaders Keith Prowse these would be tough, demanding times.

But as head of marketing at the firm Ted Walker confirms, for the company that enjoys the franchise for hospitality packages at Hampshire’s Ageas Bowl, home of high-riding Hampshire Cricket, a lot of hard work and belief that companies need to continue getting their message across has seen them prosper.

“At first it was very tough. Corporate hospitality seemed top of the list when it came to making cuts. But businesses came round to realising that if they were not building contacts with the other guy, their customer, then who was?” said Mr Walker.

“What we’ve seen is a steady return to companies investing in hospitality, but the market’s not easy, we have to work hard to ensure customer satisfaction.”

At the Ageas Bowl that customer satisfaction was evident at the One Day International earlier this year when England played South Africa.

Packages went for upwards of £600 per person for a full day enjoying the match to include breakfast, four-course lunch in the stadium’s Robin Smith Lounge with afternoon, complimentary drinks, gift and on-site parking.

There is also the chance to rub shoulders with VIPs such as Chris Tarrant, Sir John Major, Sir Tim Rice, Dermot O’Leary and Saints legend Matt Le Tissier, who are known to frequent the Bowl.

In addition to the Robin Smith Lounge, the company has access to the Ageas Suite, Hambledon Boxes and Executive Boxes. Match day events include ten Keith Prowse hostesses, two managers, a host and a hospitality manager – no small investment.

Keith Prowse now has a full-time member of the team based at the Bowl, selling not just international match days, but T20s and CB40s.

“Having someone on the ground who can show potential clients what is on offer, walk them through the stadium and explain first hand the quality of the package they and their guests will be receiving has proved a success for us,” said Mr Walker.

Through its sister company Lime Venue Portfolio, the company also offers non-match day events at The Ageas Bowl, including seminars and weddings.

“Budgets will continue to be pegged back, but we have seen that if we work hard then companies are seeking relation-building opportunities, which is what we offer.”