COVID-19 has had a catastrophic effect on the exhibitions industry, and over the last seven months, like almost every other exhibition venue in the country, we have needed to take unprecedented steps including closing the campus for exhibitions during what would have been our busiest period. Our campus consists of ACC Liverpool, Exhibition Centre Liverpool and M&S Bank Arena and although we have not been able to hold any events during this time, the arena and convention centre have been operating as a logistical distribution hub for PPE equipment.
We are in Tier 3 of COVID restrictions at the moment, but the picture for large and small venues is more or less the same across the country. While exhibitions have been impossible since the lockdown in March, we have joined with business leaders from across the whole region to lobby the government for more support, information, and of course funding.
As part of a multi-agency group that includes Liverpool City Council, Liverpool Convention Bureau, Marketing Liverpool, Liverpool John Lennon Airport and The Royal Albert Dock, we try to find ways to get the city back up and running safely across all sectors and look to maximise the city region’s recovery.
We are active and proud members of the Association of Event Venues (AEV), which, together with the Association of Event Organisers (AEO) and the Event Supplier and Services Associations (ESSA), has been lobbying the government at the highest level for much more sector-specific support. We supported Project Confidence, organised by the associations, and worked closely with our fellow UK venues and event professionals to establish principles and practices for COVID-secure exhibitions and trade shows via the now published All Secure Standard guidelines.
Frustratingly, despite a successful COVID-secure pilot event organised by the associations, in September the government decided that the scheduled go date of 1st October was impossible due to the progress of the pandemic, and maintained the closure of COVID-safe facilities without any definitive schedule for reopening which has added to the industry’s frustration.
In the meantime, multipurpose venues such as ourselves are standing by, ready to open for exhibitions the instant it becomes possible, and we’ve been extremely busy finding new homes in the 2021 calendar for the conferences, entertainment and sporting events that have had to be postponed.
Like many exhibition venues, we wanted a way to show our clients just how much work has been going on in the background to make sure we are ready for their return, so we launched our campaign to Rediscover Events at ACC Liverpool, which includes an A-Z of COVID-19 secure operational plans; key steps that we have already started to put into practice while we have been operating as a distribution hub.
Measures include providing a safe delegate journey, while working with organisers to tailor solutions to each individual event, providing virtual and hybrid content solutions, adapted food and drink experiences, one-way delegate movement systems and virtual venue tours during the planning process.
It’s difficult to predict the future of this pandemic but, when multipurpose venues are finally allowed to open the doors again, confidence is going to be a vital part of revitalising the exhibition industry. So we are doing everything in our power to build and instil that confidence in event organisers, suppliers and audiences, and to bring them back to the city for 2021.