AEO chief executive recognised in Queen’s Birthday Honours List

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Chris Skeith, CEO, Association of Event Organisers (AEO)

The Association of Event Organisers (AEO) is pleased to announce its chief executive officer, Chris Skeith, has been awarded an Order of the British Empire (OBE) as part of the Queen’s Birthday Honours List 2021 for services to the events industry during the COVID-19 pandemic.

CEO of the AEO since 2014, Skeith has made it his mission to promote the UK events industry and help drive member interests. This year, as the AEO celebrates its 100-year anniversary, and the UK continues to feel the effects of the pandemic, the work of the association has never been so critical to the future success of the sector, and therefore, this honour of a leading voice in the industry is especially meaningful.

The AEO, as part of the Events Industry Alliance (EIA), a cross-association coalition, which also includes the AEV (Association of Event Venues) and ESSA (Event Supplier and Services Association), has been tirelessly advocating on behalf of the 114,000 people, involved in the organising, supplying, and hosting of UK events, as well as the 180,000 exhibitors who rely on exhibitions each year for the success of their businesses. Coming together as one voice on behalf of the industry, Skeith and his counterparts, Rachel Parker, AEV, Andrew Harrison, ESSA, have fought for trade and consumer business events to “be seen, be heard, and be understood” throughout the pandemic.

The events industry faced – and is still facing – ever changing, and often compounding, concerns. Chris remained a resolute advocator for the industry through each challenge that arose, with notable activities like: getting official guidance to separate organised events from mass gatherings, quantifying the detrimental economic impact of the postponement of events on trade in the UK, aggressively advocating on behalf of the significant amount of job loss in the sector, delivering health and safety guidelines for robust re-opening protocols, and ensuring the financial support for the sector included businesses of all scope and size.  

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Simon Parker, Chair of the AEO, said, “On behalf of the AEO, and the wider events industry, I would like to thank Chris for all of his work during the pandemic, and to congratulate him on this tremendous honour. These campaigns were made possible with a large amount of dedication and support from many people, however in particular, we have Chris’s consistency, responsiveness, and positivity to thank for ensuring that through each new tier programme, reopening date, furlough scheme, and health and safety discussion, the events industry was part of the constructive dialogues with the appropriate officials. We are incredibly fortunate to have had Chris’s steadfast leadership during this critical period.”

Skeith said, “I am overwhelmed by this recognition. I honestly could never have imagined something like this when I started in the events industry 20+ years ago. I am incredibly grateful and honoured, and I truly believe this tribute is a reflection of the work of our entire industry during the pandemic. Every organiser, venue, and supplier, in the business events community, as well as our partners within the government, came together when we needed to protect and assist our industry. We realised straight away the only way to be productive during this time, when so much was at stake, was to do what the events industry is great at – to build connections between people. Through everything we did, and will continue to do, we remember and focussed on the individuals involved, their lives and livelihoods, and the fact that together, we were all going through the same uncertain situation. This helped us to build strong bridges and to be solution-driven.”

The events industry is still a long way from recovered, and certainly, our world will look very different to the last large exhibitions held before the pandemic. Therefore, the work of the AEO continues, now with a stronger foundation than pre-pandemic. In the short term, the focus will be on pushing for the reopening of events – without capacity limits, finding ways to support the rebuilding of workforces – reskilling, or upskilling, talent for this next evolution of events, and to rebuild confidence in event teams – to be able to host events, and exhibitors and visitors, to attend in person events. Longer term, the AEO, along with its partners, will build on this enhanced relationship with the government to help drive key economic development priorities for the UK, deliver policy ambitions, and help the industry become data rich to demonstrate the economic impact, and potential, of business events.

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