As Christmas hangs in the balance, we asked event agencies and suppliers how they see festive celebrations shaping up.

The Christmas season is upon us, typically heralding a last-minute scramble as companies look to secure their office party bookings. As social distancing guidelines look likely to remain in place, festive calendars across the UK are littered with question marks. This year, organisers need to be more creative than ever to ensure a festive atmosphere isn’t dampened by stringent COVID-secure guidelines.

Chris Warbrick

Chris Warbrick, Co-founder and Director at luxury event agency Exceed Events

We’ve got very high expectations for the coming winter months and believe employers will see Christmas parties as a way to increase employee satisfaction and improve morale. After the year we’ve had, Christmas is always a silver lining people can look forward to, this year more than ever. It just might look a little different than what we’re used to!

We still have a strong number of Christmas bookings in the diary, which were repeat bookings from last year. We expect bookings to start up again from the end of September; but people are clearly still not sure what we’re able to do in terms of events and parties. Once businesses have more information on the timeline of the current lockdown, they’ll be able to start making bookings and planning with their staff.

We know how difficult it is for people to have socially distanced events – we believe the restrictions will be loosened in time for the festive season, we just don’t know how much. However, if they don’t start to loosen, we will always advise to over-plan for the restrictions by checking table distance, attempting to keep bubbles (or in the case of employees) teams in their own area. After the drinks start flowing at a Christmas do, we know it’s difficult to keep people apart, but over-planning areas of a venue makes it easier for the staff as well as the venue owners to keep people aligned.

Oliver Lloyd

Oliver Lloyd, Director at catering supplier, Catering24

During lockdown, we heavily improved our online presence – a tactic we will be deploying this coming Christmas. While we have already ordered our stock, what we have seen is that some manufacturers have not gone all out for Christmas this year, and I think we will see a shortage of certain items, particularly with crackers and napkins.

While we have received several orders, a lot have come later than normal and we’re preparing for plenty of last-minute, ad hoc decisions being made. We’re going to see far smaller and more niche Christmas parties replacing the masses of company celebrations you would usually see around that time of year – purely because from a health and safety point of view, it isn’t feasible for many hotels and restaurants to host them.

I expect there are a number of changes we will see in line with that, too. There will be a very private feel to locations hosting parties, buffets will be replaced by traditional meals served at tables or in packaged-to-go format, while there is also a big demand right now for individually wrapped recyclable wooden crockery.

Christmas, naturally, is a huge time of year for the hospitality and events sector and there will be an immense amount of pressure on the industry to make sure parties and gatherings are not only safe but enjoyable.

Kevin England

Kevin England, MD of special effects supplier KJE SFX

This year, I think it is a fair assumption that social distancing will still be very much in place, with events happening on a much small smaller scale with relatively high ticket prices compared to previous years.

I feel the public will choose wisely on which celebrations they attend, ensuring they receive value for money while wanting to feel as safe as possible. It will rest on the shoulders of the event organisers and producers to achieve this. Not an easy task by any means, particularly with the possibilities of local lockdowns enforced which could potentially cripple individual events. Sadly, while writing this I have heard the news that Hyde Park Winter Wonderland has been cancelled. Another indication that large scale offerings are just not viable at the present time, therefore we must look to smaller ‘boutique’ events focusing on the experiential aspects.

I think this year we will see a rise in the ice rink offerings around the country, as social distancing should be achievable if managed correctly. I would expect ticket prices to rise due to the reduction in allowable numbers of customers for each session, therefore the event organisers will need to provide value for money. Organisers will have to ensure each and every customer has the best experience possible, utilising all of the immersive aspects of production. I don’t feel ‘just an ice rink’ will be enough to ensure a viable business opportunity. We need to bring out all the toys of production, stimulate the senses and leave people feeling safe, happy and smiling!