COVID-19 has left a mark on the events industry that could create more challenges ahead.
Clever use of technology is enhancing events, often mixing live with digital in so-called hybrid events and saving the environment at the same time. But staff shortages in critical high-tech roles and rising costs are causing concern, as demand for events is in danger of outstripping supply.
Lisa Richards, Director of Liverpool-based MSP Global which provides technical expertise and equipment for corporate events, said the pandemic and lockdowns has made the events industry think differently which has saved them money and made them far more environmentally friendly: “We have seen a massive shift in the way companies are now doing business as a direct result of 18 months in and out of lockdowns,” she said. “Virtual and hybrid events have been a fantastic solution to help businesses continue to trade while delivering key messages and events.
“As a result, there has been a reduction in international air travel, supplier transportation, delegate transport and accommodation bookings, all of which have had positive impact on our carbon footprint.
“Many companies have remodelled the way in which they do business as we look for smarter ways of working. Here at MSP, we expanded our services through the pandemic to include a broadcast studio at our HQ so companies could pre-record and live stream events safely.
“As a result, companies have saved on costs and reached a much larger audience, with minimal travel that has had direct environmental benefits. This continues to be an ideal choice for many companies we are currently working with.”
But it’s not all good news. The events industry is facing lingering challenges, none more so than the difficulty in getting and retaining staff along with the problem of ever rising costs: “In our tech industry all the top players have left, the reason being that our industry was not supported financially so the more experienced techs have either gone into retirement or taken another less stressful job with better working hours. This leaves us with now having to upskill the next generation. We are currently working with colleges and universities to get students in for work experience and to see who is out there and trainable, but it’s going to be a slow burn.”
Recruitment isn’t the only challenge the industry is facing. Brexit is also having an impact along with spiralling costs caused by the pandemic. It means the costs of staging events will have to rise. Lisa added: “Aside from this we have the supply chain on a go slow – very long wait times for stock and with Brexit there are no truck drivers, and the cost of materials is starting to climb. The kick-on effect is that prices to the end client will need to increase from next year.”
The other problem is that the demand for events is in danger of outstripping supply. Katie Isaacson runs her own event management company, Cool Breeze, in Liverpool after working in events for media giant Reach PLC (formerly Trinity Mirror). She’s facing an exceptionally challenging time to stage events with so many businesses wanting them and a shortage of staff to put them on: “At the moment businesses are still very much catching up with events that had to be cancelled during the lockdown, hosting rescheduled events which means pushing back the next event,” she said. “This should level out over the next year but for now this is resulting in short lead in times which can have significant impact on business planning for event management companies like myself and venues.
“With so many staff furloughed or made redundant during the last 18 months, there is a shortage of experienced staff in the industry, compacted by short lead in times to bring together the right team of people.”
The new way of thinking when it comes to staging events looks to be here to stay. One of the experts on this change is Jordan Furness, Events and Programme Co-ordinator at the 3M Buckley Innovation Centre in Huddersfield which helps businesses to connect and grow in the region.
Jordan, who has recently completed a master’s degree researching events, said change was already coming to the events world with live streaming being harnessed more and more, but it has now been accelerated by the pandemic: “Live streaming has been a key change to larger events, being able to stream the event as well as allowing the virtual attendee a chance to interact in it,” he said. “Although the industry has been slowly changing towards hybrid sessions for several years, many events organisers I spoke to as part of my master’s research were reluctant to lose the ‘personal touch’ of events as attendees often suggested that networking was one of their key reasons for attending events.
“The pandemic has forced these changes to become a necessity and I think the general public have enjoyed, and continue to enjoy, the freedom that it offers, but also miss the face-to-face aspect of physical events.”