As we begin to recover from the COVID-19 crisis together, H&E North asks key industry personnel their predictions of how the events and hospitality industry will look in a year’s time.
Face-to-Face A Must
When COVID-19 hit the UK in March, most industry figures hoped that within three months we’d return to some semblance of normality. Sadly, that’s clearly not the case and we can expect negative repercussions for some time to come. For medium to large conferences and tradeshows, very late Q4 or Q1 2021 is the best guess currently for their return.
For the hospitality and events sector to operate and perform like it did pre-COVID, the various audiences that are the sector’s lifeblood have to feel completely confident about visiting venues again. Whether they are conference delegates, visitors to trade and consumer exhibitions, corporate guests attending awards, dinners or internal meetings, they all need to feel safe and confident and implicitly trust in the COVID compliant provisions of the event organiser and their venue.
We all hope that in 12 months’ time our sector will have recovered to an extent that all parties concerned, contractors, venues, freelancers, exhibitors and visitors will be able to organise and attend events to once again share knowledge and create badly needed economic benefit across the UK. For that to happen, confidence must be restored and that is the responsibility of government, industry associations and every individual involved in the sector. If we can make that happen then we can look forward to a bright future for all elements of our business.
Humans are an innately social tribe; we need face-to-face contact with our peers to learn, do business together, and create shared memories and experiences. The passion to meet is what will drive our industry’s recovery.
Hybrid The Way Forward
The simple fact that meetings can be held virtually in many cases as has been proved over the last three months in lockdown. Many have also realised the benefits of digital meetings for climate change, food wastage and financial reasons too.
There will be fewer residential meetings, but there will be a trend for smaller, more localised meetings outside of city centres because cars will be the preferred safe way to travel over public transport. As many industries will have had budgets slashed, there will be a lot more training taking place online. The future could be tech-heavy, too, as it will help us to minimise human contact and the transmission of the virus. However, we all acknowledge that virtual will not replace live meetings and events.
Overnight guests will make the decision of whether they travel now or indeed stay in a hotel or serviced apartment; multiple night stays may well be reduced or capped.
Our industry will become more robust, but it will not truly get going for some time. Next year, assuming there isn’t a substantial second wave of the pandemic in the spring, we should start seeing the postponed events from 2020 finally taking place. Hybrid events will be more popular in 12 months’ time than they were a year ago as the sector will have learned how to deliver them more seamlessly and effectively.
At the end of the day we are a creative industry and an industry that is not afraid to change. Our people can and have adapted; our people also need to ensure that their wellbeing is considered within everything we do and work towards. Their mental health must be supported today and in the future.
Financial support, assurances, guidelines and consumer confidence as well as education are all part of the mix to ensure that our industry recovers with a sustainable future and clear purpose…we are business events, accommodation and meetings!
Business Events Need to Change
I certainly foresee face-to-face meetings returning as they once were, simply for the fact that as professionals and humans we’ve missed the social interaction. You can ignite a connection online, but real rapport and business trust is built in-person.
When we consider personal moments like birthdays, anniversaries, baby showers and weddings, lockdown has taught us that these moments are made special by sharing it with others. For this reason, celebrations will come back to the fore in 2021.
The big change will be what tradeshows will ‘look like’ – they will certainly need to have more of a pull than they did before, be that more high profile speakers, an exciting agenda, or an impressive venue. While some business events – such as workshops and seminars – have proved that they can work just as effectively online, I do think business and tradeshows will remain a physical event. Yes, we can promote a product online, but we trust human interaction even more – people buy from people.
A New Ethos in Client Protection
Here at Millennium Point we expect social distancing measures to be eased somewhat but the high standards of cleanliness and hygiene will remain and be at the forefront of a client’s checklist. While we do not expect physical events will be going anywhere, technology and virtual conferencing has become a hot topic and we believe hybrid events embracing live video streaming and virtual elements will become commonplace.
Clients will likely be looking for more safeguarding and flexibility in their bookings. Local lockdowns and outbreaks may be an ongoing reality and so we expect clients to want more assurance that their money and event are protected.
Despite the long-term impacts or longevity of the virus being unknown, we are hoping that the events and hospitality industry will be back and thriving as before. However, this uncertainty is why it is important for organisations to be adaptable, forward thinking and transparent with clients – this is an unprecedented learning experience which we are all subject to which is why being open and honest helps manage expectations and standards for both venues and clients. For this we have developed a client protection plan which will be part of our ethos, plus a guide that all of our events will follow, and which we will actively communicate to those not only in the industry but to the public as well.
Busy Time Ahead
The 4th July saw a milestone in getting back to some kind of business ‘norm’ with the opening of hotels, restaurants and pubs. After the euphoria of this news, it is time to sit back and consider the meetings and events sector. We are waiting with bated breath for some clarity and guidance as to when we can start getting together.
In the short term, I believe we will see some activity with smaller meetings, as there currently appears to be a hunger to get away from the computer screen and meet face-to-face. With regards to larger events, many are moving into 2021.
As to the format of these events, venues will need to demonstrate that the meeting environment is safe – not just for visitors but for staff within these establishments. It isn’t just about the hygene, but GDPR comes into play especially if ‘track and trace’ becomes an element within organising an event.
There may also be a percentage of invitees that will be unwilling to attend or commute to events. This leads to organisers and venues being creative with cost-effective ways of offering hybrid events. We are aware that some of our partners can offer live streaming, not just as an option to get to an audience but it could also prove another way of bolstering revenue for beleaguered venues with delegates paying to access the online services.
With many events now moving from 2020 to next year – we are going to be very busy!