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When Will Venues be Full Again?

10 Nov 20202m read

We think that meeting and conference venues will start returning to 2019 occupancy levels in the Autumn of 2021!  This is in stark contrast to a PWC Hotel occupancy survey issued in October 2020 which postulates that occupancy levels in hotels won’t return to 2019 levels until 2024 in London and 2023 in the regions – see here for our blog on the subject and here for the PWC survey.

After endless groundhog days,  finally, things seem to be changing fast. As things stand,  we are in lockdown, people have to work at home where at all practicable.  For events,  The Department for Culture Media and Sport has announced that business meetings for up to 30 people are still allowed to take place with appropriate social distancing and COVID-secure procedures. The official statement from the government being “Event spaces can be used for reasons permitted by law, including for education and training purposes where ‘reasonably necessary’.

In some cases, numbers of more than 30 are permitted, for example for examinations, essential training and events for Key workers. Lockdown is due to be lifted on the 2nd of December,  and in light of the recent news re Pfizer’s vaccine (which is apparently 90% efficient with no known side effects), and the fact that case numbers aren’t rising, it seems highly likely that lockdown will indeed be relaxed in early December. On that basis and assuming no new ‘bad’ news,  we would expect to see a significant return to the office in the New Year, i.e. in tandem with the most vulnerable being tested.  As of now (10th November 2020) we have absolutely no guidance from the Government as to when events of over 30 will be allowed. Our faith in reason, at least in this Government’s reason,  has been sorely tested! However, the importance of the meetings and events sector to the economy has been widely reported i.e. the ‘UK Conference & Meeting Survey’ in 2019 estimated that £17.6 billion of direct expenditure was generated by conference and meeting delegates, see here.  Surely the government will be keen to restart our industry?  We are assuming that the conference and events industry will restart from Easter 2021. This is in line with broader industry estimates, for example Confex International which styles itself as the exhibition where the events industry meets,  is taking place in May 2021. In 2020 it attracted 7623 visitors and 1157 exhibitors.

Event Director Duncan Custerton said:

“Our visitor surveys show huge confidence to attend Confex but fundamentally, despite our desire to press ahead, we listened to our exhibitors and simply didn’t feel comfortable operating under a six-month cloud of uncertainty. Having spoken to over 200 exhibitors and partners in the last few weeks, the response to the date move has been one of understanding, support and positivity toward the success of Confex 2021 – We look forward to celebrating the resilience of the sector and getting back to business.” This is echoed by Cavendish Venues,  a leading group of London conference and meeting venues, who point out in a recent post that even that bastion of the establishment,  the ‘Chelsea Flower Show’, is happening in Spring 2021. Cavendish Venues are entering anyone who books an event (albeit on a provisional basis)  into a draw for a pair of tickets to the show.

We estimate that when the events industry restarts,  it will restart strongly for two core reasons – one, the huge pent up demand generated by a year of isolation.  At the end of the day on an individual and company level we are social beings, the desire to escape the small screen of Zoom and actually network is strong. Combine this with the fact that so much has happened and we are entering a brave new world,  will we be partially working from home from now onwards? How are we going to pay back the enormous debts racked up, how will this affect our individual sectors?   Let alone that gorilla hiding in the cupboard, what will ‘Brexit’ bring?

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