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Steve Lucas reflects on business events industry in 2021

This past year has once again (like 2020) been another disruptive year for the business events industry. Many events and meetings continued to take place online with continued restrictions on numbers particularly for the first half of the year. Fortunately, we were able to continue to address the changing landscape; this flexibility boosted by our low fixed costs, long experience of virtual and hybrid events and wide range of clients putting on everything from a small Zoom webinar to national events.

Taking a look at the specifics

Industry Shutdown affected everyone

Back in April 2021, the OECD looked at impact of Covid on the world’s biggest events.

This affected sporting events, cultural festivals and business shows. Kai Hattendorf, Managing Director, UFI, Global Association of the Exhibition Industry told the OECD webinar that, “The fact that 300 million buyers could not attend trade shows prevented hundreds of thousands of businesses (especially SMEs) from securing sales.”

I saw some research from the Business Visits and Events Partnership, which indicated that event activity was down 95% across the UK during the past 12 months. The report says, “Restrictions have effectively closed down the sector from March 2020 to June 2021 – there was no summer staycation, no ‘Eat Out to Help Out’, no inbound travel.”

And those events which did go ahead were severely restricted. At COP26, the climate conference in Glasgow, smaller nations struggled to attend. Covid and the costs of testing/quarantine created an apartheid between the richer nations who could attend and those less developed nations who could not – meaning their voice was disproportionately absent from the debates.

How Soundbite responded to Covid challenges

At Soundbite, our experience was similar. The in-person events sector was still quiet however the latter parts of the year hybrid events starting returning.

We were well placed to create and run online events and, subsequently, hybrid events with some in-person elements. We pivoted our offering and pulled through. And certainly, some changes which were accelerated by the pandemic have been good for business. We have invested in a new website, enhanced SEO and marketing support which have kept enquiries flowing.

And the increasing focus on online events has (as our previous blog illustrated) positively impacted the sector’s environmental footprint.

We were able to get out when restrictions eased and the Soundbite team played its usual full role at the Brit Awards in May and the Epsom Derby in June and then various business meeting in the autumn.

What we have learnt through this year

1. Hybrid works, but not for everyone

Event industry news ran a report saying 1 in 2 trade associations are running hybrid events and this is likely to continue all the time there is uncertainty.

However, hybrid did not replace the income-generation potential of in-person events on which many associations depend. 64% of associations cited a fall in revenue from events as the biggest impact on their organisation.

The survey highlighted barriers of additional cost, risk and complexity of hybrid compared to solely in-person events. However, Soundbite has been creating hybrid events for over ten years and provides a smooth, cost-effective way to provide the best experience to physical attendees and those joining online.

2. Event tech has some answers but not all

The role of event technology is increasing, not just for organisers, but for visitors too. The new year is likely to see the growth on interesting trends such as facial recognition and event apps.

Facial recognition is a simple and fast way for your guests to access the event; no more queuing to type your details into a slave terminal which would the print a badge.

There is also high growth in demand for and usefulness of event apps which enable delegates to interact far more quickly and intuitively with the exhibitors and speakers at your event.

But, as anyone who has clicked this function at an online conference knows, virtual networking spaces are not a patch on the real thing.

3. Event technicians are getting a better deal

We’ve all seen the ‘record vacancies, low unemployment’ headlines as the economy started to recover in the second half of the year. Certainly, we are paying more for technicians and roadies as some of our most trusted freelance partners have left the profession and retrained during the pandemic.

In November, the Meetings Industry Association said, “In a bid to attract and retain staff, almost two-thirds (63%) of venues have reportedly increased hourly rates and annual salaries, with more than half (59%) of those doing so for all roles at an average rise of 11%.”

This is no bad thing. The people we work with are specialists and it is important that those skills are recognised. What is clear is that the industry needs to train more sound and lighting engineers to deliver the complex, hybrid events which clients want.

I am pleased that especially freelancers are getting a better deal on pay, given the working hours, physical and mental strain that many thrive on.

4. You can deliver Covid-secure, in-person events if you are well prepared

In-person events can be undertaken while Covid remains a threat. Social distancing, masks indoors and plenty of sanitisation stations make a difference.

We have also seen how lateral flow test results can be checked by security as guests seek entrance to events. This was successfully implemented not just at COP26 but at a host of smaller events across the country like Packaging Innovations London. Actual test results are more current and more reliable than vaccine passports because we know the Omicron variant in particular may be transmitted by vaccinated people.

Just like the bag check, I imagine the Covid-check could soon become a regular part of event admittance procedures which guests will take in their stride. Certainly in the short, medium term. Longer term, who knows.

Looking ahead to 2022

Sadly we are not out of the woods as far as Covid is concerned especially with the emergence of the Omicron variant. And that certainly brings worries to business. Ross McNally, CEO of Hampshire Chamber of Commerce says “With these latest measures and the speed with which they are to be implemented, there are bound to be impacts on consumer and spending behaviour with a consequent risk to business confidence.”

As far as events are concerned, visitor confidence is key. Personally, I am desperate to get back to in-person events. Nothing beats the adrenaline rush of people gathering together in anticipation of a thrilling sporting event or a life-changing conference.

Whatever the conditions and whatever your requirements, I am confident Soundbite can deliver safe, sustainable and value-adding business events.

So, as we look ahead into the new year, I send you my best wishes for a very merry and healthy Christmas with those you love and a successful rebirth of live events to drive your business forward in 2022.



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