The huge success of the UK vaccination programme has created a degree of optimism around UK corporate events industry that in-person events, networking and conferences may soon be back on the agenda. Hospitalisations and deaths linked to coronavirus continue to fall, the first stage of lockdown has not seen massive rule-breaking and fresh virus hot spots and the weather is warming up, so more of our mixing will be outside.
The next stage of lockdown easing, planned for no earlier than 17 May, will see performances and large scale events restart, with restrictions on numbers.
And, if that is successful, government is hoping that all legal limits on social contact will be lifted on or after 21 June (social distancing and mask wearing notwithstanding).
But there are reasons to be cautious.
Even if the government’s scientific advice indicates that in-person events can go ahead, many individuals will not be ready to attend large gatherings. Some may not have been vaccinated, some may be shielding and others may simply not feel comfortable attending a packed exhibition hall or hotel ballroom.
Our advice to any organisation planning in-person events is to ensure you have a back-up plan.
On the positive side, there has been some experimentation with live events. 4,000 fans were allowed to watch the Southampton versus Leicester FA Cup semi-final at Wembley on Sunday 18 April and the World Snooker Championship is allowing more spectators into the Sheffield Crucible theatre as each round passes.
Some of the more confident industry bodies have already announced plans for in-person events. The Public Relations and Communications Association is pressing ahead with a national conference as early as 8 July in London. It is even calling it ‘Public Relations and Influence in a post-pandemic world’ although you might argue the term ‘post-pandemic’ is a trifle presumptuous.
But the events industry is clearly not out of woods.
On 20 April, organisers announced the Boomtown Festival, scheduled to entertain 60,000 people in August was cancelled and tickets rolled over to 2022. Organisers blamed lack of Covid-cancellation insurance cover, which made it too risky to proceed. Their statement made clear that “anyone putting on an event this year, will be doing so without the safety net of insurance to cover them should COVID prevent them from going ahead in any capacity.”
Part of the hesitation is that scientists are seeing new variants of virus all the time, and judgment is still outstanding on whether the coronavirus vaccine is effective against new strains.
Some placing hope in vaccine passports. Hospitality industry surveys indicate venues believe the government will introduce some form of Covid-free ID scheme. Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove and Deputy Chief Medical Adviser Dr Jonathan van Tam recently visited Israel, where such a scheme has already been put into practice. Others fear this will simply create a market for fake passports, for cheating and put the credibility of the vaccination programme at risk. The GMB union has called the plans ‘reckless’.
Seven tips for successful in-person events planning
At Soundbite, we advocate a balanced approach to in-person events at the present time.
If you are planning an in-person event, check your insurance cover very carefully before pressing ahead.
Ensure you have hybrid event options available for those valued guests who are unable to attend in person. Your event management company should provide flexible and effective options to make this possible.
Liaise regularly and collaboratively with all suppliers (including the venue) to create a comprehensive Covid-safety procedure so everyone knows their responsibilities to delegates and to one another.
Check with your suppliers, determine their cancellation policy and negotiate the latest time you can cancel with no or little cost to yourself.
Work out what audio visual (AV) technology can be used that keeps the need for space to a minimum.
Communicate safety processes and expectations and attendance options clearly to delegates to reassure them that the event is safe to attend and that you are able to cater for their specific needs whether they attend in person or online.
Keep agile – and be ready to turn your event around to a fully online offering should government restrictions or advice change. This protects your guests but also your reputation.
Everyone in the events industry hopes that we can go back to meeting face-to-face as soon as possible. The buzz which occurs when large numbers share exciting experiences is why we are in this industry in the first place. So let’s plan positively while remaining sensitive to the needs of everyone with whom we deal. That’s the way to better business events.