Event enquiries have rocketed since the PM announced the roadmap out of lockdown in February: a “294% increase in event enquiries”(Conference News), “half the UK population wants to attend a live event this summer” (a YouGov survey), and reports of a 550% – 630% rise in enquiries for corporate and private events (Eventbrite, Conference News).
However, for event planners and venues there’s still much uncertainty. What does the famous roadmap – and even the journey to the roadmap – mean in practice? How can confidence be built in the sector given the rollercoaster ride of the last 12 months? And these questions are set against a backdrop of a wider “Virtual Revolution” experienced particularly acutely by the events industry. What does the future of events look like: be it live, hybrid or virtual?
Below we’ll list the key dates for venues and events, the current outlook, and how venues can prepare now to capitalise on our emergence out of lockdown.
What are the key dates?
• 12th April – Outdoor hospitality, restaurants & domestic self-contained accommodation starts to reopen. Up to 15 people to be allowed at weddings. Large event pilots begin.
• 17th May – International air travel may be unlocked. Up to 30 people to be allowed to gather outdoors and at ‘life events’ including weddings. Indoor spaces including museums, hotels, and sporting venues can reopen with social distancing rules in place. Event parameters: 50% of indoor venue capacity to a maximum of 1000 people; 25% for outdoor seated events up to 10,000, and 4,000 (or 50%) for other outdoor events. For example, an event of 250 people would require a venue capacity of 500, or necessitate a hybrid format, using different spaces in one venue.
• 21st June – All limits on social distancing and events to be removed, including the reopening of all remaining indoor venues, alongside full scale festivals.
Caveat: all the above dates are subject to successful and safe pilots taking place and the scientific team agreeing that the ‘road map’ can proceed as planned. Full details can be found here.
The Current Outlook for Venues and Events
Following the roadmap’s big reveal, Story Events, Venue Search London and industry gurus Sam Gill, Richard Waddington and Mike Kershaw conducted a brief survey and a fascinating webinar with the results. They revealed the following 3 conclusions:
i) The return to live will be gradual
Likely a slow but sure evolution starting with a virtual spring, shifting to a hybrid summer with small live events, and an increasingly live winter. Smaller events will be the first to return with over 50% of companies planning a live event before the end of September. Larger live events (50+ attendees) will take a more cautious approach, but currently 60% of companies are planning for these by the end of the year. Smaller meetings and residential conferences may be drawn to out-of-town regional venues, with outside attendees connected through online platforms. Overall though: plans for live events will likely increase further in coming weeks as the vaccine rollout and event pilots further strengthen confidence in event safety.
ii) Hybrid and virtual events are here to stay
Event industry surveys consistently conclude that hybrid events (with both in-person and online components) is the “new normal” (Event MB 2020, Splash 2020, Cvent 2020, Brella 2020). 79% expect to host hybrid events even once in-person events resume, while just 21% will host in-person events only, without an online component (Splash 2020). Reports cite a range of advantages, including increased reach & attendance, stronger audience engagement, more powerful sponsorship opportunities, reduced costs, including environmental and travel costs, improved return on investment, and valuable data & metrics. What’s more, many agencies and in-house event teams have now been upskilled, the capability of online platforms has increased, and flexible working plans will be the new normal. All these factors will boost the demand for online streaming for conferences, exhibitions, product launches and brand activations (Venue Search London).
iii) Christmas plans are still to be decided
Almost 80% of corporate event buyers surveyed are unsurprisingly delaying a decision about hosting a live Christmas party in 2021. Appetite for live parties is high to reunite and boost morale after an unprecedented time, and more clarity and confidence will come over the coming months to aid decisions on what shape their party will take. The experts predict that the market will pick up between Easter and May: Christmas bookings will be central to this.
What does this mean for venues?
For venues, this is a perfect moment to get organised. If the experts are right, planners are getting dates and budgets ready, venue enquiries will pick up around May and it’ll be a buyer’s market. For venues to squeeze everything they can out of the rest of 2021, they need to get “live event-ready” now.
Top suggestions from the experts:
Get your sales team ‘oven-ready’ (Sam Gill). Ready for an influx of enquiries especially for Q4 and 2022. Prepare costing plans and pricing structures for Christmas; have them ready to present. Given the likelihood that it’ll be a buyer’s market well into Autumn, venues should, where it’s possible, be ready to be flexible on price.
Ensure health & safety protocols are in place. A path already well-trodden by venues, who are likely to be in a great place regarding revised protocols and assessments. However, it’s still not clear whether and how restrictions from the Government may change. Be ready to shift. And in the meantime cover the fundamentals of Covid-19 secure certification inline with Government guidelines.
See more on this: Event Safety Masterclass, Rob Hawoth, Event Safety Plan, hosted by the wonderful Delegate Wranglers.
Offer flexibility. Continue to offer flexible postponement and cancellation terms, but also, crucially, the capability of fast live streaming and recording. The Science Museum and Barbican have come into their own in the last year by upgrading their tech facilities. Royal Lancaster Hotel has adapted their space significantly, with an extended reality stage, TV lighting and fully immersive 360 degree capability. Or, establish partnerships with production companies to offer complete virtual and hybrid event packages. Much more feasible and attractive for the client than bringing in and setting up the kit for a 1-day event.
This is an important long term investment: hybrid is here to stay. And with lingering uncertainty around future lockdowns and pandemics, organisers will require the option to pivot booked events from live to hybrid or virtual at short notice.
Get Green With Accreditation. Sustainability and environmental concerns will be a driving force behind the continuation of many virtual trends that we’ve experienced in the last year. This includes the expected continued demand for hybrid events. But in live events, it will become an increasingly powerful deciding factor as clients pick between venues. The Green Mark Sustainability Accreditation is an internationally recognised environmental certification for companies that want to assure their clients and employees that they are conducting business to recognised environmental standards. The experts say do it – for all the right reasons and to show you’re doing your part.
And finally, Marketing
As we emerge from a turbulent year of lockdowns, your venue’s marketing has an additional role beyond lead-generation: to build the confidence of planners and attendees. Large corporates in particular bear a lot of responsibility. They and their delegates need to feel confident that the venue and event will be safe and managed with their concerns at the centre.
One way to achieve this is to design your communications with the cautious buyer in-mind:
Content: Answer buyers’ primary concerns and questions up-front. Have your H&S protocols and facilities readily available; show examples of socially-distanced guests enjoying touch-free food, paperless registration systems and helped by mask-wearing staff. Also demonstrate your hybrid and virtual facilities in action, as well as your variety of garden spaces and breakout areas to cater to distancing needs.
Channels: Get social media accounts out of hibernation-mode. Use their limitless global reach to show the world that you’re soon to be open, ready for business and able to cater for all needs. Reach out now to venue finders and corporates. Place yourselves on ‘hybrid-’ and ‘Covid-ready’ venue lists such as the London Convention Bureau’s, or your local equivalent.
Format: Just as events are embracing the virtual, so too can your marketing. Virtual tours, show-rounds and open days can be more interactive than video and more useful than photos. An increasingly familiar feature on consumers’ landscapes, they allow you to open your doors online 24/7 to a global audience.
In the best examples, high-quality immersive 360 visuals of physical spaces are brought to life using an embedded presenter or voiceover; made more engaging by giving users control to toggle between daytime and nighttime or between different furniture layouts; and embellished with practical information, specifications and calls-to-action. To give virtual tools long-lasting ROI, COVID-readiness information can also be included as a separate layer and amended or removed when it no longer applies.
- Virtual tours can increase conversion rates by 64% – ICE Portal
- Websites with virtual content are viewed 5-10 times longer than those without – Visual Visit
If you’re interested in creating or upgrading a 360 virtual tour for your venue, or if you’re an event planner looking to create an immersive experience for your next virtual event, then please contact our team. We’re proud to be market leaders in virtual brand experiences, and are on hand to explore ideas together. Alternatively, take a look at our venue and event case studies Science Museum, Royal Opera House, Wimbledon Tennis VIP Hospitality, or examples of our work such as this COVID-readiness video for Lincoln’s Inn and this VR treasure hunt game for Spotify.