Indulge me for a moment. I’m going to start this article by writing about football as a recent newspaper article made me stop and think about the title for this blog.
The Bundesliga (Germany’s equivalent of the Premier League) is preparing to resume their season post lockdown and Bayern Munich, one of the leading clubs, have calculated that their stadium, normal capacity circa 70000, could accommodate about 250 fans using the 2m social distancing rule. An innovative solution to a challenging problem of how to conduct a mass gathering post Covid 19.
Let’s be clear. As an industry, we will get back to holding meetings and events. After all, the human race is fundamentally social by nature. We want to enjoy our experiences live and firsthand, whether it be concerts, sporting events, conferences or even that simple pleasure of a Friday night pint down the pub with your mates. Virtual has been a brilliant substitute during this sustained period of lockdown but Zoom drinks with your mates will not replace the real thing. Added to this, months of being confined with our nearest and dearest (I have the pleasure of sharing a house with five women) will mean that we simply want to get out and meet real people again – or is that just me?
I do think there will be a period of transition before normal life returns. The key will be for the economy to recover its confidence. There are many great examples of people and countries going on to thrive after major setbacks. Two of the most striking for me are how both Germany and Japan recovered and then thrived after the devasting effects of World War II. It takes resilience, innovation and sheer hard work, but it can be done.
So, looking into my crystal ball, what do I foresee for our industry: –
Timescale – A recent NorthStar survey in M&IT stated that 57% of organisers are rescheduling their postponed events from the first half of the year into September onwards, through to Q1 2021. How many of these events actually end up taking place may well be the next question.
Types of Meetings – Having spoken to the Conference Care Ops team, here’s a flavour of the types of enquiries we are currently receiving. Senior level meetings seem popular. If you are on the board of a plc or have any input into the strategy of a company, Zoom or Microsoft teams have probably been your go-to technology over the past few months as you look to steer your business through the lockdown and then prepare for the way forward. I believe that there will be a necessity for these types of meetings to go back to face to face pretty quickly. Training courses, of all types – but in particular, health and safety and business continuity will also go back to being face to face fast.
If you are a brand marketeer, your plans for this year have probably gone out of the window. However, if you are a brand leader for consumer marketing, Christmas will be the big opportunity to try and pull some of the H1 lost revenues back and planning or launch meetings will form a big part of this strategy. It seems strange to write about Christmas in April, but people will want to meet and celebrate, whether in large or small gatherings so Christmas functions and events may well return sooner rather than later.
And what about the not for profit organisations – this sector has been hit really hard. Cancellation of major fundraising events such as the London Marathon and closure of their retail stores has resulted in a major decline in fundraising. Given this, many are working hard to organise an end of year fundraising event. Associations are also showing some resilience. Most are member led and whilst their larger events may not happen this year, there will still be opportunity for some of their smaller meetings to go ahead.
Lead in times – There are a lot of meetings of up to 30 people in size with a lead time of 30 days or less. Given this, many of the meetings aren’t even being planned yet so there could be a real upsurge of this type of meeting in Q4.
Contracts – on the whole we have seen really great collaboration between the venue, ourselves and the customer during Covid 19 and we estimate at Conference Care, that we have saved approximately £3m in cancellation charges for our customers so far. I must stress that much of this has been rescheduled with the original venue so it’s a win win situation. Moving forward though, interpreting and really understanding the fine print of a contract will be crucial. Cancellation and deposit terms will be scrutinised like never before, and the ability to negotiate with a venue will come to the forefront. Strength of relationship will have a crucial impact on this. For example, we have just secured a series of 18 events for a customer with a 48-hour cancellation term. Something that in the past, neither ourselves or the venues would likely have entertained.
Technology – Virtual will undoubtably become more mainstream. Some companies have started using it out of necessity over the past few month. Moving forward, I believe it will form part of a company’s strategy and will compliment, but not necessarily replace, live events.
International events – I believe these will take longer to recover. Both for those being hosted in the UK, but also for UK residents attending them elsewhere across the globe. Border controls, additional flight security, oh and remember that thing we were all worrying about, Brexit, will make it just more difficult to travel initially. That said, we are receiving some enquiries for 2022 so planners are certainly looking ahead.
UK demand and potentially limited availability – You might think I’m being wildly optimistic with this point, but given all of the factors above, I think and certainly hope, that Q4 could be a period of strong demand for venues, particularly in some key (but potentially non-traditional) locations. Availability could be critical for some venues, so advance planning now will be important.
I hope these thoughts spark debate and prompt more questions. I’d love to hear what you think about my views and whether this is reflective of your plans going forward. I can be contacted via firstname.lastname@example.org / 07548 227899.