On 20th July, EMA collaborated with Hire Space on a panel exploring how we can maximise venue relationships to deliver exceptional event experiences in a post pandemic landscape. Things aren’t as easy as they have been in days gone by. New challenges have arisen from an industry-wide anxiety post pandemic.
Our panellists touched on a general loss of appetite for risk. Where previously there may have been an argument for high risk, high reward, these days a more cautious, guarded approach seems to be the norm. Many have been stung by the unforeseen challenges during, and coming out of, the pandemic and brexit. Both sides of the coin are feeling the strain both internally and from external parties. Our corporates expressed frustration at long response times from venues, with one of our corporates suggesting that this may be due to lighter teams on the ground. She also told us she has found there is less availability across the board than she had previously experienced. Another panelist, on the corporate side, agreed with this concern. One of our venue reps told us they had seen an exponential growth in bookings as everyone has come back simultaneously. It’s not just one company or sector trying to catch up on two lost years, it is literally everyone and there simply isn’t enough space to go around.
It goes further than just space, our venue panelist continued. To make that space sellable they need a cleaner, F&B staff on the floor and in the kitchens. For many events they also need security and reception staff, AV and tech professionals and there simply isn’t the availability in the workforce. A high demand for manpower is a huge challenge for the venues with many still short staffed and relying on agencies for temps. What’s more, it is sometimes challenging to train temp staff to the required standard prior to an event, and the question of who should cover the cost of this training is contested on both sides. One EMA member reached out to us to express how this issue had affected their recent events. Guests at a luxury, silver service, gala dinner at a 5 star hotel were thoroughly disgruntled when they discovered the temp staff did not know basic information like where the toilets were and which wines the venue offered. Our member told us that this is not the first time they have faced this challenge in the last 12 months returning to live. In effort to combat the issue head on, this seasoned planner has had to adjust their role to accommodate more on-site operations than ever before, as well as their usual role off site.
Our venue panelist told us they are doing a far higher turn over of events than they ever have previously, with considerably shorter lead times, which is increasingly time and resource intensive. Inevitably this leads to a longer lead time to respond to both new and existing enquiries. Previously this particular venue rep had a max 4 hour response time, but they confessed in recent months this has crept closer to one working day as their plate is increasingly full.
Is this a backlog from the pandemic and we can take comfort that we will move past this? Or has something fundamental shifted in the way we plan and execute our events? Host Edward Poland posed to our panelists.
The consensus from our venue panelist was that there was a definite backlog that went into overdrive when the restrictions were lifted earlier this year. These events were predominantly weddings until about 3 months ago when the corporate market rejoined the scene in a big big way. They expressed that they feel corporates want live events and they want them now. Previously these same clients may have been booking with a year to 18 months lead time, whereas now they are finding these same clients have a matter of weeks to plan and deliver their events. This has presented new challenges. The venues this particular panelist represents, offer exclusively dry hire so usually they would require bookers to have secured a F&B supplier before contracting the venue. However, with these increasingly short lead times they are finding planners are needing quicker answers and are less willing to jump through hoops and follow old procedures.
The usual conference peak months of September and October have been booked since last year so there is a challenge in persuading clients to host their events outside these standard peak times. There has been significant push back, but our panelist stressed that in many of their venues they have to insist on these off peak times in order to accommodate the high demand for spaces. They continued that they are trying, wherever possible, to be conscious of time-sensitive events, such as graduate programs and anniversaries, but often the flexibility is simply not available. Again it was echoed that our venue panelist empathises with planners who are catching up on missed events and requesting spaces with very minimal lead time, but there are struggles are on both sides of the fence. Given these conversations would usually be had 6 to 18 months out, there is potentially a real and tangible breaking point coming.
Looking internationally the issues are replicated. Our panelists discussed conference cities in Germany and Spain feeling the same strains, with international travel offering its own unique set of challenges. From the discussion it became apparent planners on both sides are trying to be flexible where they have the autonomy to do so, but often they will be speaking to substantially more venues than previously, in an attempt to secure the desired dates. On the flip side we have venues taking enquiries from multiple clients for the same space and date. This in turn causes its own set of issues, when planners and venues alike are penciling booking multiple venues/clients and ultimately letting the venues/clients that are not chosen down.
The discussion of lead times continued, with our corporates explaining that the lead times get even shorter when you go further down the food chain. As time goes on our corporates are seeing that the changes in behaviour we saw in the initial months, post pandemic, where attendees registered last minute for events and had high drop outs, has not changed. Our corporates also expressed the need to deliver exceptional event experiences offering real USP’s to their delegates in order to secure attendance. With more and more of the workforce working remotely, the factors that go into the decision whether or not to attend have increased. For many it is no longer a case of dropping into an event on the way home from work. Now it would be a round commute which would be entirely attributed to the event in question. Delegates need more of a push, and are increasingly likely to be a no show at many events leading to inaccurate attendance estimates and wasted budgets.
There are a combination of factors here when we look at lead times, one of our corporates explained. There is a pent up demand, and talking to stakeholders they are very aware that there is an amount of activity that they have not been able to do in the last 2 years or so, so they are chomping at the bit to get going. There is also a sense that people don’t want to book for 2023 and 2024 too quickly. Nowadays we are more cautious and many corporates are still reeling from the effects of the pandemic. This has resulted in a concern of not knowing what’s around the corner, meaning there is a real caution in booking events too far out.
Both our corporates and our venue managers agreed that the best way out of this The Race For Space is to communicate better, with each other with clear briefs and honest expectations, and to trust one another to deliver. These two factors are the bedrock of any relationship and as we get back to normal we need to keep these key principles at the forefront of our minds in all of our professional dealings. Times are hard and we empathise with both venues and planners, but there is light at the end of this tunnel.
Credit to credit both EMA (the Event Marketing Association) and Hire Space for help with this article.