By: Toby Lewis, CEO of Live Group
The Business Visits and Events Partnership’s (BVEP) ‘Shape of Events’ report, released last month, provided a look into the often misunderstood events ecosystem in the UK – an ecosystem that has felt the full detrimental economic impact of the pandemic.
Now, with confidence returning and the gradual re-opening of events across sectors, the report provides further evidence for what we believe at Live Group: that the UK events sector is poised to bounce back stronger.
Chiefly, the industry has the opportunity to innovate through focusing on delivering impactful hybrid events that make better use of technology to achieve what the report calls ‘experience-led events’.
The shift to hybrid events
We don’t yet have full data on the impacts of Covid-19 on the UK events industry, and the full effects are only likely to become clearer in the longer term. The BVEP’s report estimated an overall average decrease of 84% in events related business in the 12 months from April 2020, equating to £57bn of the £70bn pre-Covid-19 value of the industry.
Despite this period of loss, many in the industry have seized the opportunity to develop their offering. A BVEP survey from May this year highlighted that 42% of operators had changed their business model and / or diversified their offer or markets to a significant degree, and a further 52% had done so to some extent. A shift towards virtual and hybrid events and enhancing digital offerings has been the main development.
This is a shift we have witnessed first-hand. Pre-Covid, 65% of the briefs that Live Group received were for in-person events that made no mention of hybrid or virtual. Now, the emphasis has shifted, with fewer than 5% of new briefs focusing on a purely in-person experience. Hybrid events can help reach new and wider audiences and deliver engagement in a more inclusive manner, with attendees valuing the flexibility that they provide as they engage with the content in whichever manner is most comfortable for them.
A sustainable future
Virtual and hybrid events reinforce the sustainability agenda of the events industry, which experienced a boost in interest across the pandemic. It is clear how important it is for the events industry to reduce its environmental impact, and hybrid events can help to minimise emissions by reducing the need for travel, as well as preventing the amounts of waste produced by unnecessary in-person events. Smart technology and careful sustainability calculations which inform event plans from the very beginning can also ensure that environmental impacts are minimised.
The pandemic has presented us with an opportunity to revolutionise the sector, placing sustainability and ESG culpability at the core of the approach. With the UK selected as the host nation for COP26, now is the ideal time for the business events industry to demonstrate its commitment to sustainability and reducing carbon emissions.
The rise of experience-led events
The growing prominence of hybrid puts more onus on the live element of events to deliver valuable experiences for audiences. Event audiences are changing, with a growing emphasis on millennials (who were set to be biggest group of corporate travellers by 2024) and centennials who are looking for experience, authenticity, and participation.
Ultimately, impactful engagement is built from optimised experience. Hybrid events can use data, technology and personalisation to ensure that events match the way in which delegates want to interact with the platform. The flexible nature of hybrid events ensures that relevant content is targeted appropriately for maximum effect, producing more collaborative experiences across an extended period of engagement pre-, during and post-event.
In 2019, the British events industry was estimated to be worth £70bn of direct spend. Clearly, growth in the sector will not only benefit businesses across the country, but will also help kickstart the wider economic recovery after the pandemic. Furthermore, as the BVEP report identifies, increased coordination in the industry can help deliver on key areas such as sustainability and carbon neutrality, and have a positive social impact through driving local regeneration and community development. With a tech-enabled and hybrid-first approach to events, the UK can move beyond the effects of the pandemic to a better future.