What does the future of the events industry look like?

Craig Mathie

Managing Director at Bournemouth 7’s

I have no doubt that the future of the events industry is incredibly bright. Once the inspiring scientific and medical community have done their work and public confidence is restored – our role and expertise in bringing people together will never have been more important. We are headed for a decade of intense hedonism and a re-connection with those people we have missed so much since the Spring of 2020.

The impact of Covid on our industry has been seismic for almost everyone. Whilst some have pivoted within the sector or found alternative employment outside it, the reality is that we all miss live events more than we ever realised we would. Some wonderful people have left our industry and some companies have sadly closed their doors for the first time however we have also proved our resilience, our compassion and our collaborative DNA – if it was even needed.

Through the pandemic, the events industry has come together in ways never seen before. On an individual company basis, to regional cooperation and joined up working at national level – we should be incredibly proud of how we have supported our colleagues, teams and friends through these uniquely challenging times.

The reality is that no-one quite knows when the events industry will get back to how It was; to thousands of people mingling in front of stages or cheering on their favourite sports team but I, for one, believe that we should remain hopeful for late summer 2021. As I write today, we hope to host Bournemouth 7s Festival in August 2021.

Of course, things may develop and scenarios may change, but I think it is much more sensible to be ready to happen than miss the chance to deliver when the experts deem it acceptable.

I personally believe that the events industry needed a reset. For years, if not decades, we have worked tirelessly to continue delivering events. Working relentlessly was almost a badge of honour and our expectations of suppliers, contractors and our own teams sometimes exceeded what we now realise is reasonable. I look forward to putting our people back at the centre of what we do.

The green agenda was gathering pace before Covid with phenomenal groups such as Vision:2025 making headway with industry leading campaigns. However, the world has realised even more the impact our way of life has been having on the planet and events can be at the forefront of working in a more environmentally-friendly way.

There is very little doubt that the pandemic has accelerated our digital progression, in a whole host of areas and the events community has made great use of the technology available to it, as it always does. Digital will continue to enhance the events industry through hybrid developments, additional or accelerated content or through new techniques available to enhance the experience of those attendees who will still flood through the doors.

I also believe that the past year has been incredibly important for our industry in terms of recognition. Both the government and the wider public were blissfully unaware of the vital role our industry plays economically, societally and culturally. Over the past 12 months, the industry has forced itself into the faces of decision makers and hopefully we will continue to benefit from this knowledge for many years to come.

Max Fellows

Founder, Virtual Events Directory

To get things off to a positive start, we will absolutely see live events returning in 2021, and we’ve now so many variations as to which channel, format or platform to leverage, there is no need for cancelations of any kind, ensuring revenues are not lost and as an industry we gradually return to a positive position and out of the red. That being said, we’ve been through the mill as an sector, and although there is most definitely optimism, hope and a light at the end of the tunnel, we must proceed with caution as we are not out of the woods just yet.

There will be a few key evolutions that will begin to take shape over the coming months/ quarters. The first being the rise of the empowered audience member/ delegate. This will see the need to provide choice at almost every stage, be it what they see, when they see it and in which format, in person or virtually. Secondly, content and agenda personalisation – based on their preferences and previous interactions (leveraging big data), saving time and demonstrating consideration. Thirdly, In line with choice, on demand – delegates should now never be refined to a single moment in time (unless something exclusive etc), providing an on demand service to watch or re-watch is essential. Lastly, community – Surrounding communications, helping facilitate conversations and network will be integral. Doing so in person and virtually will add huge loyalty points to your brand.

On a larger scale over the remainder of 2021, we are going to see less of an ‘us or them’ type tussle between virtual and live, and the increase of hybrid will prevail. But what seemingly is the challenge at the moment is the over complication of hybrid, and the forced issue of in person delegates interacting with virtual ones. It is a much bigger conversation, but one that I think we will see diminish and the understanding it is two different formats, needing two different approaches and styles of content and experience (and thus unfortunately more budget). The focus will remain on the audience and the content, and which platform/ format best conveys the message and delivers the results. Either way, content and engagement remains paramount.

Inclusivity is going to be an essential focus, as we do return, we have to be incredibly mindful of this. In addition to disabilities, diversity and Inclusion, we need to factor in those that do not have the confidence to return to in person, for many a reason that we may not be privy too. Equally, working routines and hours will now change forever, so including those that are not able to physically make the event is essential.

Lastly, we will see an immediate rush and visible return to consumer and brand events, which is brilliant, you only need to look at Instagram to see sold out festivals boasting left right and centre, and good for them. That being said, business and corporate events are a different beast all together. There are multiple considerations, not only moral and reputational, but also the risk and liability aspect of staff. Vaccines are excellent, but do not protect 100%, this combined with ever evolving variants and our accelerated position in the rollout against other EU and global countries will be a limiting factor. Digital health passports and speed testing will help with the return of larger events, but I predict we will see much more localised business events initially before we see larger international travel and events return toward the end of the year.

Renae Brown

Festival & Event Specialists (Founder) – Arby Projects

I think the obvious positive to come out of all of this is that there is going to be a huge demand for festivals and events when they do return. We’ve missed out on those social experiences for too long so I think when the time comes, ticket sales for public events are going to be quite high. We’ve seen a lot of people roll their concert and festival tickets over to 2021 and again to 2022 in some cases. They have already spent that money which means in some cases they might be likely afford to buy an additional ticket in 2021 as well as attend rescheduled events from 2020. We do need to consider that the first time back in a large crowd might be overwhelming for some but that will fade with time.

B2B events that have been taking place virtually will also be welcomed back – again for that in person social aspect. There’s only so many meetings and events you can attend via Zooms, Teams etc before the novelty wears off. That’s not to say that that technology won’t be used once live events happen again. Hybrid events have huge potential to reclaim some of 2020’s lost revenue and should appeal even more so to sponsors and big brands as they can reach a far bigger audience than before.

Re-opening the festival and events industry while the vaccination programme is still underway will see the need for integrating tickets with test and trace apps or software to ensure a reliable and smooth entry process to events which also minimizes any health risks for the audience. This software could also finally help squash the issues we’ve been dealing with around fraudulent tickets for many years. I’m a supporter of the vaccination passport idea and I’m interested to see which countries go down that route and the routes other countries take instead. If we’re seeing low uptake for the vaccine in younger age groups for example, a vaccine passport would be a way to help motivate those age groups to get the jab if it meant they could go to a festival on the other side of it. Improved hygiene provisions, onsite rapid testing and crowd flow management are hot topics for events hoping to take place in 2021/2022.

My main concern is that a lot of people have been made redundant, lost work or moved companies due to different circumstances so a lot of the key knowledge required for certain roles might have been shuffled or lost entirely. The first season back will be a tough one and there might even be a skills shortage as certain groups of people have had to pivot into other industries to sustain themselves throughout the pandemic.

We could also see a supplier shortage due to companies having to cease trading for such an extended period of time.

Lineups might need to feature domestic artists and performers only while all countries align on vaccination and containment levels.

My main hope for the future of the festivals and events industry is that they come back with sustainability at the forefront of all key decisions. We were on a really positive trajectory with making events more sustainable and it would be a huge shame to go backwards on all of the work and research that happened pre-COVID.

I also think there might be a gap for young event organisers to rise up from all of this with new festival or event ideas and be able to test them out as the demand for events will be there.

Veronica Lake

Associate Director – Events and Marketing, UK-ASEAN Business Council (UKABC)

Apart from major and obvious change: increased share of online and hybrid events, I believe there will be a few others that will greatly affect the industry.

Unlike before the crisis, in-person events will focus on what online conferences can’t replace. Peer-to-peer interaction, magic of group brainstorming, real connections will be the core of offline events. Rather than 10 hours of sessions in 3 parallel tracks. Keynote style presentations and 1-to-many content will mainly stay for virtual events.

Reversed formula for offline events: all the audience will physically be in the same place, but the speaker can be broadcasted. It’s a shift in mindset from “speakers are to be physically present onsite” to “it can be broadcasted as long as people still can connect”. 

Going forward safety measures are the main game-changer and in practice, this means temperature checks, travel, symptom and close Covid-19 contact declarations, compulsory face covering, safe distancing, seat allocation, rapid Covid-19 testing for larger events of 50 or more.

Government guidelines will become as accessible as privacy policy statements and to protect event organisers from any liability, attendees will probably be required to sign disclaimers in person as well as online.

Lately, I have realised that online events are being defined as successful when a clear message is delivered to a relatively big audience with minimum cost. This though, cannot be the only barometer of success. Events are about seeing speakers in the flesh, creating, and strengthening relationships, understanding, and respecting cultural nuances by making the effort to be there. In the end, people do business with people.

Josh King

Sales & Marketing Director, Dependable Forces

With some vaccines already being deployed – and many more in development – to fight the coronavirus, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the events scene will return to normal in 2021.

But in reality, a vaccine can’t solve our problems overnight. Or even in a matter of months. In the words of David Salisbury, former Director of Immunisation at the Department of Health, we’re going to be “vaccine plus” for the time being. Distancing and hygiene must play a role until the virus becomes less deadly or the vast majority of the UK receive their COVID-19 vaccine.

What are the key trends that we see on the horizon?

Rapid testing – A few of Britain’s biggest companies have started using rapid COVID testing for their staff. John Lewis & Partners, Bentley and Jaguar say they have saved hundreds of thousands of pounds and averted thousands of sick days by implementing this testing. Business chiefs have said that the results from rapid testing have shown that they are important for rebooting the economy. A campaign has been launched to make COVID tests at work ordinary and help bring the world back to normality. We’re now seeing rapid testing being used more regularly within the events industry, and it’s going to become the norm moving forward.

Social distancing is here to stay – crowds will have to comply and adjust. If you want to reopen a venue, you’ll need to think about any environmental strategies to reduce contact, queueing and congestion. Floor lanes must be marked. Signage should support it. You may have to limit close seating or erect screens between them. Unfortunately, capacity will suffer, which means ticket prices could rise.

Hybrid events (and lots of them) – brands have realised the huge potential for online events, so even as restrictions begin to ease, digital events are here to stay. In a recent survey conducted by Bizzabo, 97% of marketers stated that they are confident that Hybrid events will become more prominent going forward. If hybrid events aren’t a part of your marketing mix, you need to rethink your strategy.

Sasha Knipe

Marketing and Virtual Event Freelancer

2021 is looking up for event marketers. We started 2020 scurrying around trying to cancel and save what deposits and money we could on cancelled live events while purchasing less than desired virtual event platforms, creating a whole new event format and — oh still driving lead generation.

Turning a live event booth sponsorship into a virtual booth sponsorship doesn’t deliver the same results. You can’t expect the same results from something that is completely different. As marketers we have shifted back a bit and gone back to the old school webinar format and essentially added in video. Smaller and more intimate virtual experiences are where its at. Segmentation and targeting a focused audience delivers better results. There are certain aspects of coming to a live event and deciding what breakout room to go to and which agenda track to follow that just don’t translate as well for virtual events. People get lost within the event platforms if there isn’t a guided path or experience similar to a live event. Let’s not even get on the subject of platforms crashing and flushing months of hard work in the toilet.

Live events are coming back slowly, but surely. The vaccine and how quickly different countries roll it out and adjusting of travel restrictions globally is obviously a huge factor, but also there have to be leaders willing to take the plunge and obviously some risk. I think everyone is waiting to see who the big leader is that is the first one to safely put on a large live event successfully.  Will it require more meticulous planning, additional vendors and costs, more restrictions and more time and effort? Absolutely! I’m game for the challenge, how about you?

Felicity Hinchcliffe

Sales Manager

It’s certainly been a very different year and we have missed our beautiful building being transformed from day to day for amazing events. Whilst events have had to make the difficult decision between skipping a year or going virtual, we hope that it now won’t be long until they can take place again.

As we emerge out of this unusual time, we think that the appetite for live events will be bigger than ever. After a long-period of time spent at home with group interactions only being possible via online communication platforms, people will be craving face to face discussions and in a different setting outside of their homes! This will really be the drive for the return of live events, as while it has been fantastic to have these online platforms to keep in touch with people, I think it has shown that networking works best in person.

As we start to move back to normality there is likely to be increased demand to hire larger spaces for events and for slightly reduced attendee numbers, to allow for any continued guidance around socially distancing. We also think that there will be a trend towards incorporating outside spaces more with possibilities of using this for arrival, outside catering or even networking space. We are lucky to have huge spaces available for private hire (both inside and outside) which means we can assist with these briefs and take into account any necessary mitigation practices.

Andrew Woods

Sales Director, Leonardo Royal Hotels

Boris has said we are back in June but what do I think that means?

Well the dream for me is a simple one we have shown as a nation that we are able to work together for the greater good and we don’t have much longer to wait until live returns.

My view is that we will get through these next few months and be free to enjoy a glorious English summer investing our remaining funds in our bars / restaurants hotels & resorts ,this period will prove to anyone looking to book live that we are safe & ready.

Quarter 3/4 Will be when live events return albeit with a exciting hybrid bolt on.

The 4 pillars of every event will be as follows:

Larger rooms / Smaller Numbers / Better Content/Live Streaming

None of this is anything other than great news as the meetings and events we deliver upon our respective returns will be world beating and as the world opens back up 2022 will bring the safe return of international events.

Matthew Curran

Co-Founder, Gowaver

At Gowaver, we are very positive about the future of the events industry and see 2022 being one of the best years yet. With enquiries increasing and confidence being restored sighing the market we are confident there will be a quick recovery.

Although we are seeing a slow pace still in early 2021, it’s clear there is domestic and short haul demand from buyers as the need to travel, meet and get back to live events grows stronger and stronger.