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Opinion Piece: What challenges will we face in re-starting the events industry?

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As we enter the 6th week of lock-down we have more clarity on the impact that the Covid curveball has had on our country, and specifically on the events, hospitality and travel industry.  The potential ‘future normal’ is now solidifying in front of us, but no matter how this plays out, and whatever shape it takes, at some point we must re-start our industry.  It contributes £70 billion to the UK economy and is responsible for providing over 770,000 jobs.   Read what Jackie Boughton from The Barbican, Richard Bridge from Top Banana, Beckie Towle from Events Raccoon, Richard Eades from BP, HBAA members and industry leaders are thinking about the biggest challenge we’ve ever faced and what we’ll need to do to overcome it.

Jackie Boughton, Head of Business Events, The Barbican

Change is inevitable, and it will have a big impact for event venues.  For the moment details are still hazy, but it’s fair to assume that social distancing means we should be allowing 4 square metres per person.  This is going to reduce capacities by as much as 50%, which brings with it challenges not just for venues and caterers but also organisers.  Event sizes will undoubtably change due to a venue’s limitations, but such changes will also be driven by attendees desire to travel less and work virtually.  To keep up with this, venues not only need to consider their capacities and social distance offering, but also their technology and tech partners.  Only those able to offer a true hybrid experience will be viable going forward’.

Richard Bridge, CEO, Top Banana

It will be delegates' mindset that will need changing… we have been reprogrammed over the last few months to keep our distance… not only for our own sake but that of our family, friends and colleagues. Robust procedures need to be put in place so that companies & delegates feel safe and comfortable in attending meetings. Venues are going to have to put a great amount of work in to get them ready for our new world. Building confidence in our industry is vital & sharing ways of working. Roadshows may be held more frequently so that delegates do not have to travel 100 of miles to attend live events… live steaming will be more prevalent… Events could be held over a number of days so that you can have a different audience every day.

Beckie Towle, Chief Amazement Officer, The Events Raccoon

There will be a new normal - not too different to what we’ve seen before – because we’re creatures of habit and people need that face to face interaction.  Companies that don’t currently have a working from home policy will very quickly realise they need to adopt one, and meetings and travel will be questioned as to their worth - both by budget & duty of care. For me, this shows massive opportunity as more investment will be placed on those larger, significant gatherings with a real emphasis on ROI & ROE. The cream really does rise to the top in situations like this and while there will be job losses, many professionals in the industry are really pushing through and up-skilling and there will be a new wave of really good, skilled workers looking to make a difference after this.

Richard Eades, Global Category Manager (Travel, Meetings & Events) BP

There will be multiple challenges, a few being:

  • Covid related regulations for suppliers (venues, airlines and ground transport) – costs of the implementation and on-going additional costs to operate
  • F&B operations will be impacted - hotels, airport lounges, banqueting etc…
  • A phased position: - The industry will be limited to local / domestic opportunities. Eg: bookers could avoid remote venues, due challenges of group travel.
  • Time for travellers / delegates confidence to travel or attend an event to return.
  • Contracts reviewed and adjusted along the chain – Covid HSSE requirements and assurances, cancelation policies and payment terms.
  • Suppliers shouldn’t create an abundance of sales and marketing media and collateral ‘pitching’ to travellers and customers, about what they’ve put in place post Covid……. This is not a USP, it will be a given / an expectation.
  • There will be the need for change to secure incremental business until the International traveller returns , so focus the cost, time and resource on the stability and safety of your staff, your customers and your business for the longer term.
  • As a corporate, one major post Covid 19 potential issue will be the financial health of suppliers, relating to an updated financial position on the stability and sustainability of a venue, hotel, agency or airline - especially; those contracted for larger meetings and events with a longer lead time

Kaarin Chadwick, Account Manager UK&I, Radisson Hotels

We will face operational adjustments to address Social Distancing regulations, Health & Safety concerns to balance hygiene and cleanliness with interaction and collaboration and working with Government restrictions that may persist for some time to come.  Confidence in large social gatherings will be severely impacted and we must encourage and reassure staff and guests that their safety is our priority. Our biggest challenge will be interpreting the “New Normal”. We have grown accustomed to using technology to bring teams together including “Microsoft Teams”, “SKYPE” & “ZOOM” – which have all become familiar tools, and the impact this technology will have on future events is extremely hard to predict. However, Radisson Hotel Group has the technology and the infrastructure to support clients requiring a more technical Event solution but what impact this will have on attendee numbers is currently not clear.

Samme Allen, MC and Online Moderator and Meeting Designer

There are 4 words that spring up in my mind when it comes to what is happening regarding the pandemic and the future of the events industry. Conversation – Without the dialogue, we aren’t going to see an end to the crisis anytime soon. Stop asking what the government can do for you, but what can we do as a sector to create safe, meaningful experiences and events in this new world. Start talking tactics, with the best people who can execute this. Consolidation – Without greater collaboration with our competitors as well as clients, the current status quo is going to continue and possibly damage the sector permanently. Build taskforces with the people “on the frontline”, who deliver events and supply technology and create a solid plan for recovery. Consolidation – There are thousands of “event” businesses out there. Consolidate your offering with others to strengthen your business and value proposition. Communication – Now is the time to create the language for the business of events. No more “virtual”, no more “mass gatherings”. Let’s communicate that well designed online meetings and events have value, and let’s communicate to the world that events are a critical driver to future proofing the global economy.

Julie Shorrock, Managing Director, Hotel & Travel Solutions

The initial challenges we see are as a direct result of what we expect to be a staggered slow re-start, not a ‘switch on’ of business. The challenges are 2-fold. One will be in bringing back furloughed staff at the right time, and not before time managing cost against revenue. The other challenge is the return of customer confidence and commitment. As the lockdowns and travel bans begin to lift we know clients are not going to ‘switch back on’ immediately and we can expect this slow start to be further impacted by individuals, as well as companies, ‘comfort levels’ in getting back to travelling and being out in venues and hotels. Our world will be changed, and we will need to change with it to survive.

Anna Snoep, Director of Operations - Meetings, Events & Groups Inntel

I feel there are two main schools of thought around the challenges we face when kick-starting the events industry. One is the practical challenges which venues will face in terms of hygiene, social distancing, food and beverage provision and their technical ability to provide hybrid conferencing. The other is the confidence of our clients that it is safe to organise meetings and events again, taking the duty of care they have towards their employees and external delegates in to account. Hopefully, there will be clear guidance from Government on what venues are expected to provide and that we’ll create an industry standard that third parties can benchmark on behalf of clients. For our part, we’ll reassure clients and encourage them back, once it is clear that it’s safe to do so. It is more important than ever that venues and agents work together to encourage our mutual clients back to events, we genuinely are #StrongerTogether!

Andy Besent, Head of Sales – Jurys Inn & Leonardo Hotels UK & Ireland 

Whilst the exact Government restrictions hoteliers will face in the coming months is not yet clear, our planning is focused on working with suppliers and customers to establish robust social distancing measures for Events that protect both our teams and guests. Confidence will naturally be fragile post lockdown, so strong protocol’s in our hotels that support safe event check in, social interaction and F&B services will be in place. Some changes to how Events run is inevitable. It seems likely that some larger multinational conferences will be broken into smaller domestic groups running simultaneously so being able to facilitate the technology to manage this will be critical for hotels.