On Thursday 2nd April, Hire Space hosted a virtual event discussing 'How The Events World Is Responding To COVID-19'. This event was hosted in partnership with Brella and Glisser and aimed to bring together key representatives from all corners of the events industry to get connected and discuss the impacts of COVID-19.
Following a virtual networking session using Brella's handy tool, the first session of the morning was titled 'Government Response To COVID-19 And The Event Industry’s Next Steps'. Discussing this was Martin Fullard, Editor of Conference News and Michael Hirst OBE, Chairman of BVEP (Business Visits and Events Partnership). The session was moderated by Jennifer Jenkins, Director at Worldspan.
You can watch the video below, or read on for our key takeaways of the session.
Table of Contents
Make yourself heard
The events industry needs to make itself heard. Michael advises that signing up to trade associations, such as MIA and EVCOM, are the best way to get concerns properly recognised and fed into the system that the BVEP operate in. Over 20 trade associations meet frequently, find common cause, then present it to government departments, such as the DCMS (Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport). The BVEP also sits on 3 distinct committees which ultimately feed to the Prime Minister.
Martin reminds us here how difficult it is to gain a clear identity of the events industry, as the type of businesses that thrive in our industry are so diverse. He notes this is why it may be confusing for government officials to understand our industry, but also that he believes the government is slowly starting to listen to our pleas.
Who needs more support?
Michael suggests there needs to be greater flexibility within the furlough scheme: staff need to find some way to volunteer back to their employer and to remain working despite lack of cash flow coming in.
He also urges the importance of support for small businesses which form part of the supply chain. They are currently not covered beyond the self employed provisions offered by the government, and there is no use having venues protected if suppliers who supply to those venues are not protected. The BVEP are working hard to get the government and the treasury to recognise that the supply chain needs considerable support going forward.
What should the government do next?
Martin notes that the events industry exists to support other industries. He urges the government to take a leaf out of Hong Kong's book, who have provided small to medium-sized businesses an amount of money specifically to go and exhibit at trade shows relevant to their industry. He suggests that we could do this perhaps through a voucher scheme, and that this would give these businesses a kickstart to get back in front of their audiences.
Denmark and other nations have also provided large sums of funding specifically for events, so it is crucial for our government to acknowledge the existence of our industry, and to recognise the power it carries as well as the struggles it currently faces.
Timeline for potential recovery
Martin reiterates that the supply chain is going to have a lot of pressure on its shoulders once events start being rolled out again. However, Michael reassures us that there is certainly confidence that the events industry will once again be booming, judging by the fact that 74% of all events have been postponed until the last quarter of 2020.
Survey shows 74% of #events postponed indicating around 80% of annual events scheduled for last quarter causing probable capacity constraints for venues and supply lines. No matter, #eventprofs apply ingenuity, resilience and creativity @EventsAreGREAT— Michael Hirst (@ChairEIB) March 27, 2020
Michael also notes that the recovery package needs to be bold and ambitious. For example, we need a strong marketing push through VisitBritain, we need to see tax incentives across the board and a complete restructuring of the government's entire approach and policy towards the events industry. Martin also believes the recovery will be incremental and will happen in stages.
During the session, several questions came in that we didn't have time to answer. So, after the event, we caught up with the speakers to get their answers to the questions you wanted to know - here they are!
Which areas of the events industry will bounce back fastest?
Martin believes we will see internal events/communications happen first, mainly in the corporate sector, as business maps out how to rebuild. Following that, he suggests external conferences and partner/supplier meetings will follow. He shares his concern that exhibitions will find it the hardest to bounce back as a lot of major venues may be hospitals until the end of the year.
Michael also believes UK corporate business will bounce back quickest, initially around internal training, corporate planning and business strategy. Events relying on international travel will take a while, but if there is a chance international events may relocate here, that would be a boost.
How should we unify our voice as an industry to appeal to the government?
As Michael noted, the best way to be heard by government is to join or engage with your relevant trade association, with a trade press voice as an amplifier. Martin reminds us that venues, agencies, organisers and suppliers have different needs on a granular level, but as far as the bigger picture is concerned, we all want the same thing. Michael advises that the key is to keep it up - keep talking and keep giving feedback via your association.
Are the existing government loans and grants supporting the event industry?
Martin informs us that the Local Government Association has published advice to local authorities based on the government's guidelines on how rate relief can reach businesses. The LGA advises that conference and exhibition venues are eligible for rate relief, although ambiguously leaves it in the hands of the LA to decide. Martin advises us to contact our Local Authority and be persistent, and that if individuals are 'met with a roadblock', Conference News may be able to assist by applying some media pressure.
Michael informs us that the Government has intervened again to encourage the banks to lend, notably by preventing a requirement for personal guarantees on loans of less than £250k, and by extending the loan scheme so more smaller companies can benefit. Lots of this is trial and error, and there will be back and forth with the government as the days and weeks progress - but they are listening.
Martin Fullard, Editor, Conference News
Martin Fullard is editor of Conference News magazine. An experienced, award-winning journalist covering a variety of fields, Fullard has been covering the conference and meetings sector since August 2016, appearing on many panels and leading discussions relevant to the events industry. He campaigns alongside the trade associations to government to achieve greater recognition for the events industry.
Michael Hirst OBE, Chairman, BVEP
Michael Hirst is Chairman of the UK Government’s Events Industry Board, established to grow the Business Events Industry across the UK, and Chairman of the Business Visits & Events Partnership, representing Britain’s business and cultural Events’ Industry. He is also a director of The Tourism Alliance, the body that brings together all the major tourism organisations in the United Kingdom. Michael Hirst was appointed an OBE in the 2004 for his services to tourism in Britain and was awarded the 2013 Joint Meetings Industry Council Unity Award, recognising individuals who have made a significant contribution to the advancement of the international Meetings Industry.
We hope you enjoyed reading the key points from the first session of our virtual event. We will be releasing a write-up on all six of the sessions in the coming days, so keep your eyes peeled!
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