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Data review: disappointing December but 2022 looks set to improve

Peter Heath, founder of Venue Performance, reviews the latest event booking data

It was all going so well, relatively speaking in comparison to 2020, until Boris made his Plan B announcement on 8 December.

Check out the (Fig 1.) chart. Sure, there were bumps in the road (October dipped), but as you can see, the general trend was upwards.

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The Plan B announcement stunted confidence and event planners ran again for the hills. The biggest kicker came in the slowing of event confirmations, which saw a drop that took the average back down to August levels.

Parties were one of the event types hit hardest in the last quarter of 2021. Everyone was hoping for a more robust Christmas party season but in hindsight (and the data shows), Christmas never really got off the ground (Fig 2.). You will see the left-hand axis stays low.

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Conferences, the real money maker, also took a hit, as demonstrated in Fig 3.

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Looking forward, bookings haven't gathered pace much beyond spring and very early summer. Of course, some venues have and will buck the trend, but as a market benchmarking platform, it's the trend that we're focused on for these articles. (Fig 4.)

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To contrast the disappointing December dip, the good news is that intent continues to be on the up. Enquiries (Fig 5.) have not taken a backward step during 2021, and December was another month of growing enquiry numbers, which is hugely encouraging to see. Your customers are desperate to get back, and this chart shows that in stark reality, with December seeing an increase of 25% in enquiries per venue. And that was on top of a 30% increase in November from October. To put that into the broader picture, that shows a rise of 380% from August. And judging by what a lot of you are telling us, anecdotally, that pattern seems to have continued into Jan. We'll report that back in January's numbers next month.

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Let's now look into the future and explore what is popular next year in event types. (Fig 6) Well, not surprisingly, meetings are still the most popular, with an average of 26 per venue already booked for 2022. That's not bad when you consider that in 2021 venues had an average of 53 for the year. So, 2022 has already reached 50% of what was achieved in 2021.

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Suppose we apply the same comparison to Conferences in 2022. In that case, there is an average of 15 conferences already booked per venue compared to an average of 18 delivered all last year, so already the market is at 83% of the previous year's numbers, which is hugely encouraging by any measure.

The final event type we're looking at (for this report (we have 12 event types in total)) is banqueting. In 2021 the average number of banqueting focused events per venue was 15, and in 2022 that stands at nine.

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That's 60% of 2021's number, but for the budget setters among you, it shows a very positive outlook for the confidence of 2022. Of course, we're still a very long way off 2019, but I'm a fan of a) not comparing ourselves to 2019 - that was a very different world and b) I think that as a sector, we should start looking at other ways of measuring performance—more on that in the coming months.

Now, before we get too carried away by these early signs, let's also look at rate: For this exercise, I'm going to give you the comparisons:

Price Per Head (PPH) - includes Hire + F&B

Meetings

2021 = £108

2022 = £162

Conferences

2021 = £100

2022 = £86

Banqueting

2021 = £110

2022 = £106

The PPH for all events of all types and sizes:

2021 = £110

2022 = £121

The thing about rate is that the rate or price for 2021 was largely irrelevant. I don't mean businesses (venues) didn't care about the rate; of course, they did it, it costs money to turn the lights on, but the rate was the least of their concerns. They were just happy to have some cash rolling in. So, the rate wasn't as closely watched as it will be in future years.

Another element to the future of events is hybrid. What's happening? Firstly, let me explain how Venue Performance measures hybrid because the measurement process is highly complex. The venues often don't expose some measurable facts about hybrid, especially if they don't offer a hybrid or tech solution. So, because venues don't always have access to hybrid measurable answers, it's difficult for us to get a 100% accurate picture. So, here's what we do: We ask venues if the event they are reporting on (enquiry or confirmed) has a hybrid element; yes or no?

Therefore, our data is more of an indicator than an absolute, and the result is clear. Hybrid events won't be as popular next year as they have been, by a long way. Now I know that stands to reason, we're organising events, not virtual events, but the data does lend itself to the conclusion that people want to return to face to face and are less focused on virtual at this stage. Who knows how many of those events will include virtual at the point of being delivered, but at the point of recording, the market got to an average of just over two events per month, being virtual to less than 1 in 2022. (fig 8).

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What happened in 2021?

Lead times became shorter, catering budgets were reduced significantly, and confidence was fragile, which meant the industry suffered from stop-start - little momentum.

And venues took whatever money they could to protect the future of their staff and their business. It was a challenging year but, being a resilient bunch - you've hung in there, and 2022 looks considerably better than 2021 already. So, if we can get some momentum, events will come back even stronger.

There's nothing like not appreciating what you had until it has been taken away from you. And businesses, people and institutions know the power of events. So, I sense that 2022 will be a strong year, but if history has told us one thing, it's that keeping an eye on the competition and the broader market will be more critical in 2022 than ever.

The winds of business (and events) can change quickly, and if you're not watching, you might be caught napping.