On Wednesday 11th November, the Hire Space Virtual Team kicked off Part 2 of EventLAB 2020 Online, which was all about The Event Experience, Project Safety & Success.
The final conference session of the day was titled ‘Safer Events In Action - Getting Prepared For In-Person Events.’ The session explored event safety and what event professionals should be thinking about now to prepare them for the return of face-to-face events. Sharing their thoughts and experiences were Caroline Medcalf, Director of Venue Finding & Events at Capita Travel and Events and Mark Bannister, Independent Technical Director. Edward Poland, Co-founder of Hire Space, was moderating.
Watch the video highlights from the session below or read on for our key takeaways.
Our panel started off the discussion by celebrating the news of the recent vaccine trials, which showed 90% efficacy. Caroline points out that although the vaccine may not be rolled out as quickly as we would like, this news has given consumers a light at the end of the tunnel and it means we can have positive conversations about the return of live events again.
Mark adds that confidence is key in this industry. The good news has certainly provided a boost to consumer confidence, giving us hope for eliminating the virus, rather than just managing it as we have been.
Caroline says that she has events in the books from Q2 of 2021 onwards. Although some clients have chosen to postpone, conversations are now more positive and many are seeing the vaccine trials as a big green tick that wasn’t there before.
Looking for clues
Mark believes that throughout the pandemic, the events industry has had to be on the lookout for clues that could mean a return of live events, allowing us to plan and prepare for the future. These clues can often be found outside of our industry.
For Mark, two primary indicators to look out for are the reopening of sports grounds and the return of music concerts and festivals. Once restrictions are lifted in these areas, we can start to expect restrictions to be lifted for exhibition centres and conference halls too.
That said, he also points out that these indicators can do nothing on their own. Our industry also needs to be campaigning and spreading the message that we are a safer pair of hands than these other areas that tend to see laxer restrictions than we do.
Even when events can happen again, there’s likely to be a certain amount of trepidation amongst some attendees. This is something that we’ll need to be able to address. Inline with this, both Mark and Caroline have taken the Hire Space Safer Events accreditation.
Mark points out that health and safety has always been critical for events organisers, but it traditionally happened almost exclusively behind the scenes. Moving forwards however, it’s not just going to be a concern for us as organisers - delegates are going to have safety at the forefront of their minds also.
Caroline adds that accreditations are a kind of kitemark. They reassure consumers that an event organiser or venue is going to be capable of keeping them safe. The process of acquiring the accreditation also gives venues and organisers the ability to be able to talk confidently about how they’re going to make their events safe, helping to improve consumer confidence too.
Ed brought up the question of how much time event planners are going to need to dedicate to safety when planning those first few events that start up once restrictions allow.
Caroline believes that event planners are creative, flexible and agile. Just like how many of us pivoted to virtual events during the first lockdown, she believes that we’ll be able to pivot very quickly to meeting the new requirements of events in the ‘new normal’. While it might take a bit longer initially, it will very quickly become part of day-to-day life.
Mark adds that it’s important to recognise how people’s behaviour has changed throughout this experience. It’s had a real affect on people’s psyches, as you can see just from watching how people move around in the supermarkets. This has to influence every decision we make when planning an event, whether it’s expanding aisle width during an exhibition or avoiding touch screens and looking at different ways to provide this personalised experience for people. As such, we’re going to have to spend a lot longer on the design phase, to try and tailor the experience to how attendees are going to want to behave when they’re at an event.
Mark believes that ensuring safety all starts with a robust risk assessment to understand the different measures that are going to be needed and how they’re going to be monitored. As an example, in Singapore for energy week, an event with 250 delegates took place. They tested each attendee using a rapid, 15-minute test and used this as a way to offer further confidence to everybody involved. TV studios and film productions also make use of regular testing.
Alongside putting in place rigorous safety measures, venues also need to talk about the measures they’ve put in place in detail so that corporations and clients can assess whether or not they are offering enough safety for them. Rather than simply stating that they’re COVID-safe, they should tell corporations about the measures in more detail, for example stating how often they clean and in what way.
Caroline says that unfortunately, without more clarity from the government, we have to plan for every eventuality. After all, the landscape we’re in is changing rapidly.
She gives the example of one live event she’s been working on that’s had to be rebooked three times. They were planning on holding the event in a huge warehouse with each delegate confined to a two-metre square taped out on the floor. Unfortunately, the event still hasn’t taken place and has now been rebooked for Q2 next year.
Caroline explains that this has been possible because both venues and clients are being really flexible at the moment. This is one positive that has come out of the situation - everybody is working together to make sure that, as an industry, we’re able to book any clients we can and to rearrange if we need to because of legislation. This has essentially changed the way we’re running events, allowing for a lot more visibility and open communication.
The evolving role of the event planner
Mark believes that the last few months have shown us that it’s hard to predict anything with certainty. However, safety is sure to become a more prominent part of the role of an event planner moving forwards.
Caroline expands on this point by saying that event planners have moved from being risk assessors to being risk managers. While the industry has always looked at the delegate flow, answering questions like how catering is going to take place and how drinks are going to be served, these factors will now need to be made more visible.
Mark also points out that the availability of the workforce in our industry will have changed. For example, suppliers may have changed their offerings or some planners may have moved from in-house to freelance. This could lead to different ways of working and new collaborations, for example working with freelancers more often.
Ensuring delegates follow regulations
Getting delegates to follow regulations can be tricky. Caroline says that at some point delegates are always going to have to be left to their own devices and it’s hard to know where the responsibility lies if they choose to ignore the safety measures you’ve put in place. In the case of venues working with corporate customers, Caroline suggests that the responsibility could lie with the corporate customers, who could even sign a document agreeing to this.
Mark agrees that as event planners, we can’t take on all the responsibility. There will always come a point at which you can’t regulate against somebody’s wilful disregarding of the rules, but the important thing is making sure that the rules are as thorough and hard to disregard as possible!
Ed adds that communicating what safety measures are going to be in place prior to and during the event is vital. There’s always going to be somebody who forgets to put a mask on or walks the wrong way around a one-way system, so we have to be ready to communicate our safety measures loudly and clearly at all times.
Caroline, will in-house covid risk safety managers become a thing?
Yes. I think given the rules and regulations we’re working with, it will become increasingly important. And, as we’ve already discussed, keeping up with legislation, which is changing all the time, is a job in itself in some cases. So, I can definitely see a role for this in the future.
Caroline, are clients being more flexible with cost increases if that’s what’s needed to make an event safer?
At the moment, for us, I’ve not seen an increase in cost because of these measures - although I have seen an increase in time. My worry is that next year, we’re going to see customers trying to make back some of the money that they’ve lost this year, so we’re going to have smaller budgets.
Mark, do you think event install & dismantling period will be even more of a challenge?
It’s likely events will be smaller in footprint, due to layouts helping to maintain social distance and limits on attendee numbers. So, I would hope that would take some pressure off of the build and breakdown time periods. More care will need to be taken by setup and dismantle crews to take all necessary precautions and this will have an impact on the speed at which they can work. I would also hope to see venues allowing additional time between bookings to ensure deep cleaning is carried out.
Mark, are you expecting public liability to change?
Whilst COVID will have an affect on a range of insurances, I doubt it will impact Public Liability other than in a general increase across the cost of all insurance policy costs. COVID-19 is community acquired which makes it very difficult to prove conclusively where and when it was contracted by an individual.
That said, insurers may look to breach of reasonable care conditions to refuse indemnity. It’s likely that they will only succeed if the insured has been reckless, especially if a suitable Risk Assessment has been carried out and the control measures have been followed.
About The Speakers
Caroline Medcalf, Director of Venue Finding & Events, Capita Travel and Events
Caroline is a professional and enthusiastic individual with over 20 years’ experience working in both high-end venues and agencies and is therefore very passionate about this industry. With a strong background working with senior level stakeholders, Caroline builds strong relationships, and has a reputation for delivering the very best for her customers. Not only that, she's also a proud to partner with Eventwell, the industry's voice for wellbeing and mental health as their Head of Events.
Mark Bannister, Independent Technical Director
One of the founding members of the UK chapter of ILEA in 1998, Mark has over 20 years of experience in the events industry. Working both supplier and agency side has given him a well-rounded experience with roles for the likes of Thorns furniture hire, Create caterers, and ExCeL London. Mark’s agency experience includes 7 years at Imagination as Senior Production Manager and Head of Technical Production for George P Johnson where he has been for the past 9 years. Mark has lead the production and execution for a range of international events including Sibos and Cisco Live.
Edward Poland, Co-Founder, Hire Space
Edward Poland is co-founder of hirespace.com, and responsible for brand, marketing and communications. Hire Space features 4000+ venues and is the go-to venue resource for the events industry, with a brand reach of over a million people a month. Previously, Ed worked as a speechwriter for UNESCO and a campaign manager for the Labour Party.
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