The changing landscape of the events industry

Destination leaders discussed the impact of coronavirus on business events at the MeetGB Virtual Roundtable.

Sunrise on the Isle of Skye in Scotland
Sunrise on the Isle of Skye in Scotland

Increased business from the domestic events market could make up for a shortfall of incoming events from abroad, according to a MeetGB virtual roundtable that took place yesterday (Wednesday 17 June).

BVEP chair Simon Hughes hosted a discussion between leaders of the UK's tourism and business events organisations, at which the changing landscape of the industry was the focus. The conversation covered the initial shockwaves of coronavirus, how venues intend to reopen and what the business events sector needs from the government to aid its recovery.

Tracey Halliwell MBE said London & Partners "rewrote its business plan overnight" when the pandemic struck and lockdown began.

"Since then we have been doing a lot of webinars and online seminars, as well as informal coffee sessions to keep people in the loop who might have been furloughed," she said. 

In terms of strategy, Visit Scotland's Neil Brownlee said: "no destination wanted to be the first to say give us your business when this is all over. That's why we came up with the slogan 'Scotland will wait'."

But he added that now Visit Scotland is seeing signs of recovery and is more on the front foot. 

However, Heledd Williams of Visit Wales made the point that before you can think about bringing large business events back you have to make sure local communities are happy with that. "It's important the local authorities and communities are happy to have events back as well as the destinations themselves," she said. 

What has changed

With travel restrictions in place around the world, there could be fewer events coming to Britain from abroad in the short-term. Brownlee said he believes the UK market will make up for the shortfall for Visit Scotland. 

"The domestic market will be our number one market for those wanting to meet in Autumn," he said.

While business events will come back recognisable as the kind of live events we attended pre-coronavirus, it will take time, added Brownlee. He also said people will think more carefully about whether they need to attend an event in person. 

"This situation has accelerated the speed at which certain elements of the industry needed to change. Meetings may become more streamlined and the superfluous bits cut away. People are going to be thinking harder about whether they want to get on a plane."

Tourism Northern Ireland's Eimar Callaghan said: "sustainability has become a big priority for business events and for incentives. Travel is going to become even more meaningful with more CSR elements to incentive trips."

When it comes to the day-to-day running of Visit Britain and working on future events, Kerrin MacPhie said that because they are already looking at 2021 and beyond, certain things haven't changed much – especially for events that are four or five years away.

London & Partners' Halliwell added: "This situation has taught us that everything can change overnight and there is no room for complacency. As the saying goes, don't let a good crisis go to waste."

Venues and social distancing 

Simon Hughes asked the panel about the situation for venues and whether they are having to rethink their capacities. He said he had heard from several venues that operating on a two-metre distancing policy would make opening so difficult that they wouldn't break even financially and so would rather remain closed until 2021. However, he added the BVEP had presented its findings on the matter to the government.  

Halliwell commented that a lot of the London hotels and venues she works with are investing heavily in the kind of tech that means they are better equipped for virtual and hybrid meetings and events. 

"Venues are awaiting formal guidelines on when they can open. Some hotels have not closed in the first place if they have been open to key workers," she said.

A question was put to the panel about what venues might do in the absence of official guidance from the government. Was it possible they could take matters into their own hands and open ahead of an officially approved date?

"I don't think anyone is going to go rogue and open early," said Visit Wales' Williams. 

Halliwell echoed that sentiment: "I don't think anyone will open ahead of time but they will certainly be ready to go on the day."

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