HBAA, the trade association for the UK meetings, events and accommodation industry, is calling on event planners to be flexible with venues on service-level agreements (SLAs) whilst the sector works towards recovery.
HBAA is calling for greater flexibility, understanding and even a revision of existing SLAs as some venues nationwide are facing severe staff shortages while dealing with a huge rise in enquiries/bookings – and yet confirmations still remain low.
Juliet Price, Consultant Executive Director of the HBAA, explained: “Many venues and businesses in our sector are opening and ready for business. However, the length of lockdowns, furlough hangover, redundancies, Brexit-related workforce departures and visa issues plus the lack of contracted bookings has led to significant numbers of people leaving key positions, resulting in a severe shortage of staff across the sector. Coupled with employees testing positive for Covid or being required to self-isolate, businesses are under immense pressure when faced with a surge in enquiries, bookings and the overwhelming demands of large-scale reopening, without any immediate income.
“The knock-on effect is also being felt within other parts of the supply chain. Agencies experiencing a slow response from some venues are struggling to maintain their service levels to customers.
“At present, with the ongoing changes to government guidance, customers may require more handholding and assurances as we reignite their confidence around meeting in person. Venues are now also having to take time to re-evaluate capacities, catering options, delegate flow and indoor/outdoor facility options. This adds pressure all round and has an impact on SLAs. It is vital that planners are open to temporarily adjusting SLAs during this challenging time and important for event organisers to understand that communication channels and response times may vary.”
No matter what the issues, maintaining communications is essential. As Gareth Warnock, HBAA venue sector advisor and Group Sales Director of De Vere said: “We are working hand in hand with our customers, supporting them and giving them the detailed answers to any queries they may have with regards to their bookings.”
Gareth adds: “We’re seeing signs of movement in the meeting and events sector, and we hope this increases as Step 4 of the Government’s roadmap out of lockdown in England comes into place. Consumer confidence appears to be shifting in the right direction, which everyone in the hospitality industry sees as a positive; we hope this continues throughout the sector as the nation continues to movetowards unlocking.”
Louisa Watson, HBAA venue sector advisor and Director of Marketing at Wyboston Lakes Resort commented: “We all want it to be ‘business as usual’ and we are going in the right direction to get the sector back up and running and vibrant in its approach. Challenges come with the ongoing changes in restrictions and uncertainty that creates. But enquiries are coming in and the appetite for face-to-face meetings is strong. Collaboration with agents and bookers is key to building back better together.”
Severe staff shortages and difficulties with recruitment are at the root of the challenges that venues are facing, and HBAA has recently been outspoken in supporting campaigns for the temporary relaxation of post Brexit visa regulations to help provide a short-term solution.
Juliet Price adds: “HBAA has been highlighting for many years that the UK’s reputation for high quality service in the meetings and events sector was in danger unless the imminent shortage of trained staff was addressed. The ‘perfect storm’ of Brexit, pandemic-induced redundancies, Covid-related absenteeism, furloughing and a lack of income during lockdown is creating a harsh reality for our industry.”