H&E North speaks to Michael Begley, Managing Director of venuedirectory.com, currently operating a Safe Meeting database of over 20,000 UK venues, to discuss how corporate confidence is crucial to keeping the industry alive through the long winter ahead.

Hi Michael, at a challenging time for our beloved industry, how does the current landscape look?

We have seen volumes steadily increasing since the opening of hotels on 4th July. Regrettably, there is no consistency, with massive rises one week and dips the next. We have applied some averaging to this and fortunately the trend is in an upwards direction.

We’re still seeing small meetings dominate the 186,000 confirmed bookings, but looking ahead, we’re seeing much interest in larger events for late 2021. In the short term, I can see small meetings with short lead times being the focus of the winter months and with luck, the large meetings will restart from March 2021 onwards once the weather improves and infection rates have hopefully stabilised.

Can more be done to support from within, and from government?

Thousands of jobs and lives rely on our industry and we need to do whatever it takes to get it back on its feet. The industry is already taking bold and positive action towards supporting its community and lobbying policy makers.

The government seems to have little awareness of the sheer impact of live events and how they support other business sectors. We need to keep communicating to policy makers the importance of business events and how they differ to other live social events. Many businesses much like my own, which is an integral part of the meetings and elements industry, will sit below the radar of 99% of people, including government.

Corporate events are highly organised; when it comes to the millions of attendees, events organisers can track and trace all of them – we have all been doing it for years. What’s more, business transactions – that’s acquiring new leads, completing deals and signing contracts – take place at business events. That has all stopped now that events are not being held. Therefore, the government needs to understand that it’s not just about our industry, it’s about all other business sectors that rely on us to get business done.

What’s the future?

Although the short-term outlook is poor, I think the industry will recover in the long term. We are all Zoom fatigued and waning from webinars. There is real pent-up demand for face-to-face interaction and one of the reasons behind this, is that it’s proving more or less impossible to create meaningful connections online.

Indeed, it’s fundamental to our human nature to meet in person with others – a clear indicator of this is the weddings market. So many weddings have been postponed in 2020 to 2021 – speaking to my industry colleagues, many had busy 2021 diaries and now they are full and bookings are going into 2022 and even 2023. My overall concern for our industry is the loss of talent – hopefully the new extension to the furlough scheme will help with this.

The Meet Safe, Meet Smart 30 campaign, what do you hope it can achieve?

In the same way that Eat Out to Help Out was designed to persuade customers to return to restaurants and pubs that served food, I felt that the meetings and events industry needed something to encourage corporate meeting planners to book face-to face meetings and conferences.

We work closely with HBAA and after discussions with the association and many other venues and agencies, a new campaign, Meet Safe, Meet Smart 30 was launched.

Don’t get me wrong, Eat Out to Help Out was a fantastic boost for all my friends in the restaurant trade and helped them enormously, but it was about discounting prices to encourage people into hospitality settings. As meeting planners know, rate negotiation is already part and parcel of booking events. The HBAA ran a survey showing that it is safety, security and flexibility on cancellation charges which are going to restore planner confidence and the Meet Safe, Meet Smart 30 initiative encapsulates this.

Has the initiative gained traction?

The campaign has been widely publicised in the trade media and the next steps will be announced imminently. Its aim is to give corporate event planners the confidence to book live meetings – an issue that was identified following the initial survey.

What many people don’t realise is that hosting and attending a meeting or event is allowed, what’s missing is the consumer confidence to do so. We need to shout from the rooftops as venues, agencies, production companies and booking platforms that events for up to 30 people can take place COVID-securely in permitted venues across England.

There is a great kitemark that has been developed for the industry to use on their own marketing channels. I’d love to see the industry lit up with this so that the key meeting planners see it and recognise that it is safe to meet. Repetition builds recognition after all, and that’s what we need to do here, flood the space with a message of confidence.