On Monday 15th June, the UK Government announced a further delay in easing the final restrictions, with full conditions not lifting until 19th July in England. This shift, of course, impacts business meetings and events, especially those planned from 21st June without restrictions. Despite this delay, there is still confidence across the industry to deliver safe events, and bookings with restrictions can, and will, go ahead.
In our last Joint Venture article with Venues and Events International, Insight Presentation Systems, Off Limits, iElive and GOTO Events, Plan and Commit, we looked at how the partners were working with clients to instil confidence in turning enquiries into confirmed bookings.
In May, before the impending delay of restrictions, the partners took a snapshot of their event pipelines to understand enquiry numbers, the nature of events, and business sectors. They repeated the analysis at the start of June to spot trends over the four weeks.
Of the events booked in June, there was an average increase of 21.59% in month-on-month bookings, with only a 4.2% increase for virtual events. The result highlights client confidence in returning to in-person meetings and events.
Construction, Insurance, IT, Financial and Pharmaceutical are the five leading sectors seeing a significant rise in confirmed bookings.
The average group size for existing bookings is 42 delegates, and depending on the nature of the event, there are bookings confirmed for up to 200 delegates.
Anita Lowe, CEO for Venues and Events International, discusses why contingency planning is imperative as the role of an intermediary agency: “Our clients look to us for support and guidance in delivering safe events. It’s our responsibility to ensure all contingency measures are in place for all our meetings and events for the safety and wellbeing of delegates. Although this is something we have always done, it’s highlighting these measures at the outset that clients now want to see. Our experienced team of event managers are carrying out Covid risk assessments for all events at event enquiry to ensure all contingency measures are considered at the outset.”
Taking into consideration the latest roadmap announcement, Lowe discusses the impact on their meetings and events for the foreseeable future: “Although there has been a delay to ‘non-restricted’ numbers, at Venues and Events International, our clients are booking under the current restricted numbers, and enquiries are coming in. We would ask our hotel partners to consider increasing staff in conference offices and reservations to ensure they can manage the enquiries and ensure they can meet the demand of calls. In many instances, we are struggling to receive a response to our requests, and this is cause for concern.
“We have serviced our conference queries and cancellations without revenue in many cases throughout the pandemic – knowing it is important to be here for our clients to advise and support. We need to be sure we are now able to deliver responses to our clients’ enquiries in a timely manner with the support of our venue partners.”
Steve Perkins, Managing Director for GOTO Events, shares his insight into their business trends: “When we originally looked at our statistics in May, we were on a 70/30 split of virtual and live events throughout June and July with the bias on virtual. Running these numbers again this month, I’m delighted to say this split has shifted to a staggering 95% live event bias.”
Reflecting on the latest announcement, Steve shares what impact this will have on bookings: “Although social distancing measures remain in place, we have been planning our events with restrictions still in place. The safety measures we’re implementing is giving the confidence clients need to go ahead and commit.”
iElive’s Beattie Barrick looks at the impact of enquiries from a production perspective: “The summer months are notoriously quiet for us for conference bookings. Our peak has always been October and November, so clients are booking much further ahead, and we’re seeing that trend again this year. For any new enquiries we have taken, not one has come through that doesn’t involve some form of a streaming element. It offers much more inclusivity for clients, and I think businesses have come to realise that through the pandemic and the benefits of live streaming.”
Looking at client confidence and the impact of extended lockdown measures, Barrack continues: “People are still nervous about confirming for the larger conferences. It’s taking time for businesses to understand if people are happy to travel again, and nobody wants to be the first. We believe that once restrictions are finally lifted, we will see a flurry of last-minute bookings as people continue to test the water.
Martin Stephens, Corporate Director for Off Limits, is excited for the summer and the return of live team building events: “July is set to be our busiest month of the summer, and It’s a Knock-Out is making a big return for corporates to have some fun and (hopefully) enjoy some great British weather. We’ve seen a 75% increase in enquiries for July, and because the majority of our events are outdoors, we’re less impacted by the latest announcement. Safety measures will remain in place over the coming months, but clients are keen to get their teams back into a social environment.”
Ian Verge, Managing Director of Insight Presentation Systems; “The push back of restriction lifting to 19th July is likely to have little effect on us. One road show has converted to a single virtual event on short notice, which is disappointing, but all our other scheduled events up to 19th July are virtual anyway.
“Our experience is that most organisations are giving the dates some ‘headroom’ and looking towards the autumn before planning events with live audiences. My one concern is confidence erosion. If the 19th July date slips further, I can see the brakes being put on autumn event planning with live audiences. No doubt these could convert to virtual, but these are typically much less lucrative for us, only require a part of our team, and government business support is due to end in September.”
The pandemic has affected all businesses differently. But one primary concern for getting events back up and running is the lack of resource. Pre-pandemic, there was an abundance of freelancers that would jump between events and fill the gaps for the larger events. The core freelancer pool for virtual events and specific skill sets are ideally suited to virtual and live audience events. Some, however, such as set building, are primarily used for live audience events, and many of these individuals, understandably, have sought employment in other sectors.
This change does leave a considerable gap in expertise from which event management companies could pull. There is anticipation that freelancers will return to events when the landscape returns to something resembling normality.