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ReConnect

Industry leaders debate how event industry can bounce back at Chelsea FC's Reconnect

Chelsea Football Club hosted the ‘ReConnect – Power of People’ hybrid event on 25 May, which featured 40 industry leaders and event organisers who debated the core issues covering how the £84bn sector can successfully emerge from Covid-19.

The event at Chelsea’s Stamford Bridge stadium featured a series of panel discussions and interactive polls with attendees that identified a wide range of industry insights.

ReConnect began with a poll asking the audience if they thought most live events would be back to ‘normal’ within the next 12-18 months. Positively a majority of 62% answered ‘yes’, but 23% said they were ‘not sure’, and 15% said ‘no’.

Statistics indicated that although there is rising optimism, many still feel there is a way to go before events truly get back to normal and innovation will be required in the interim. 

Live panel discussions were chaired by Conference News editor Martin Fullard. The first panel ‘One Industry, One Voice #WeCreateExperiences’ highlighted the importance of the industry continuing to use this movement of event industry campaigns and associations that have come together to ensure there is a consistent message to government to help the sector get back on its feet. Founders of One Industry One Voice, Rick Stainton of Smyle and Simon Hughes of BVEP were on the panel, to discuss how the campaign had worked successfully and what needs to come from it next.

Stainton explained that One Industry One Voice had bought the industry together at a critical time. He said when Covid hit, there was initially a struggle to unite and collate the data and messages on the importance of events to the UK economy and employment – with 1.5m employed by the industry. Stainton also said he hopes there is a lasting legacy from the campaign:

Stainton said: “We weren’t speaking to each other, there was too much conflicting data. Ultimately, we wanted to create not a bunch of toothpicks being thrown at press or government but a spear of clarity, and an understanding about the power of events.”

Hughes said:” A lot of the campaigns have fallen away now as we’ve almost gone as far as we can go.

“But we’re now looking at what is the reality of the situation facing us? Will 21st June happen? What are the key drivers that we as the event industry need to be thinking about?”

Hughes said One Industry One Voice would continue to bring the sector together to answer questions like whether it should be supporting covid certification.

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The next panel was ‘Hybrid Events – How Should They be Designed?’ with Tracy Halliwell the director of tourism for London and Convention Bureau, Hire Space founder Edward Poland and Lucy Adamson, Chelsea Football Club’s meetings and events Manager, who all shared their views.

Halliwell began with a positive for the UK arguing that London has venue collateral that can deliver: “A lot of venues have been working on hybrid while things have been quiet.” She said she would now like the industry’s help to promote London as a hybrid event hub.

Poland said he thought live and hybrid events should be designed to complement each other: “We need to look at virtual to make the power of the live experience even more powerful.”

Poland added that event organisers should be asking how value can be added by integrating the live and virtual experience: “We don’t understand the true value of hybrid yet. But I think we can use it to amplify the reach of live events.”

The panellists and Fullard agreed that there was “no magic formula” for hybrid events and it depended on the client and their sector. “Different sectors want different things,” Fullard said. “Manufacturing and retail want live. Whereas for healthcare professionals, if you are not practicing, you’re not earning money, so dialling in online makes sense.”

The panellists were also unanimous that hybrid events are here to stay, but that they would become more merged with live events and 82% of the audience thought there would be continued demand for hybrid events even once restrictions have been lifted.

Speaking about overcoming specific challenges for hybrid events, Adamson said selling the new concept itself was something that needed to be overcome – from corporate directors to delegates who do not know what to expect or understand the value yet. She also said that venues naturally need to be prepared with the increased bandwidth and AV required, which all also needs to be accounted for in day rates.'

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The final panel Tackling Event Anxiety bought together Jo Austin sales director of Lime Venue Portfolio and board director MIA, Sam Gill founder and director of Story Events and Venues and Neil Thompson, founder and MD of the Delegate Wranglers. It focused on tackling event anxiety, and how the industry can help overcome people’s and organisation’s fears about large events. The ReConnect audience poll found that 55% still had concerns about attending largescale events.

“We’re dealing with a lot of organiser anxiety,” said Austin. “It’s about getting delegates feeling comfortable about coming back, about giving them confidence. From extra cleaning to F&B to entrances and masks - the articulation and communication will be really paramount.”

Gill said the sector must lead by example: “It’s just a gradual nudge towards getting people back towards live events and convincing them it’s fine. What’s going to happen this year is that people will go to weddings and see friends at social events. Then the conferences will come back.” Gill also thought businesses spending social budgets would be part of the process. With corporates being happy to entertain staff to build moral that only live events can deliver.

Finally, Fullard asked the panellists if they would welcome a form of covid status certification, whether that ultimately meant proof of vaccination, a test, or having natural antibodies to gain entrance to an event.

“I actually think people will see this as a stepping-stone to the next level of getting back to normality. I would rather that than not go to events at all or do a passport,” said Neil Thompson. Gill agreed saying, “If people are asked to take a lateral flow test, I think that’s a sensible thing and it gives people confidence they can shake a hand or give a hug.”