Why reopening the events industry is critical to the UK’s economic recovery

The UK's world-leading 84bn events industry has been one of the sectors hardest hit by coronavirus, having been effectively shut down since March.

Why reopening the events industry is critical to the UK’s economic recovery

The UK’s world-leading £84bn events industry has been one of the sectors hardest hit by coronavirus, having been effectively shut down since March. Not only that, but the UK is the only developed country where business events have been all but outlawed, driving business to competitors abroad. 

Recent figures from the Event Industry Board presented to ministers revealed that of the 1.56m event professionals in the UK more than 525,000 jobs are at risk in the industry, and three out of four companies could fail to survive beyond next January. Business events generate £165 billion in trade per year in the UK ‘ it is evident therefore that the industry has a significant role to play in getting the UK economy back on its feet, and must not be forgotten. 

The power of events to business

The UK is a leader in events creation and production. Its service suppliers and event organising professionals offer some of the most up-to-date technology and equipment for staging events in the world, boasting industry-leading production, innovation and logistical audience management expertise. 

As well as high profile political, medical and educational congresses, sporting, musical and cultural events, the UK also hosts a broad range of business events – from conferences to trade exhibitions, experiential brand experiences to product press launches, that provide sectorial growth to the UK economy, attract foreign investment, and create knowledge transfer opportunities. The experiences industry drives tourism, business visitors and investment to the UK, and serves to foster knowledge-sharing and innovation. 

Such organised events and experiences are of huge strategic importance to business, having the power to inspire innovation, educate attendees on new products and strategies, facilitate the sharing of ideas, and help people build and evolve connections among peers or within the marketplace. 

The experiences sector also includes the power to support society via third sector fundraising and awareness projects at live events. Over £10 billion has been lost in the last six months by a hard-hit charity sector, a notable proportion of which is due to a loss of ability to engage effectively with corporate and public supporters at events. 

While virtual and hybrid events do have merit, live experiences remain far more effective in comparison, enabling business leaders to gauge emotional reactions to products and content more accurately. The atmosphere and sense of a shared emotional experience through attending a live event cannot be easily replicated online, while the workshops and networking opportunities afforded by live events can provide further value, regularly catalysing additional idea generation with enhanced understanding and collective buy-in, creating an impactful sensory experience and enabling attendees to grow networking connections more successfully. 

This is why the #WeCreateExperiences campaign is launching on the 7th December to Educate, Inspire and Reassure corporate business event decision makers through the national and regional press of the unique power of live experiences, the UK events industry’s global expertise and the positive impact events have on society, wellbeing and the economy ‘ ultimately give confidence to start event planning into 2021.

Economically irreplaceable 

The economic benefits the UK reaps from the events industry cannot be overstated, and no small part of this comes through business events. In 2018, inbound business visits to the UK represented 22% of all visits, contributing 8.4 million visits and £4.5 billion in spend. Such attendees spend 30% more on average than leisure visitors, and spend on everything from hotels to transport, restaurant and attractions. 

The hosting of large-scale events also creates further employment and spending, providing employment for the likes of truckers to ticket sellers, caterers to crews, sound and lighting technicians, hotels and hospitality. The Events Industry Board say the UK will lose out on £31 billion in spending from business travellers if events do not restart by the middle of 2021.

As things stand, 76 percent of events companies say they will not survive beyond February if events have not resumed. Since March, 845 major exhibitions have been cancelled, resulting in a shocking £8.6 billion loss to the UK economy.

Harsh restrictions on trade shows have also resulted in the industry missing out on key business in between lockdowns, when other developed countries, including Germany, allowed events like conferences to restart. This puts the UK industry at a competitive disadvantage and at risk of losing market share to international destinations and agency competitors. 

The need for a clear roadmap

The recent Winter Plan announced by the Prime Minister means that business events can go ahead with some restrictions in tier 1 and 2 areas and represents a promising start to helping the events industry get up and running again. However, the industry is losing long-term bookings due to the lack of clarity over which regions will have which restrictions, and when and how events can resume without restrictions going forward. 

Also, weddings can still only take place with a maximum of 15 attendees, so the circa 278,00 weddings with an average guest attendance of 80-100 people each that take place annually, contributing £14.2bn to the economy, are still severely restricted.

The industry has also received no effective short-term Government support to keep events companies afloat: 80% were ineligible for grants used to help retail, hospitality and leisure businesses. 

Live events will undoubtedly make a comeback as cases decrease, and when rapid testing will be ready for implementation and such spaces can be safeguarded. With events industry professionals being global leaders in managing organised audiences, there is no doubt that experiences in the UK can be hosted in a Covid-secure manner, above and beyond standard government guidelines.

In the meantime, the Government must provide a roadmap with clear protocols in place to facilitate the creation of safe venues and allow businesses to gain the confidence needed to book events in and throughout 2021. With the economic, social and business benefits of events in no doubt, it is clear the events industry and its word class professionals need to be empowered to play their part in kick-starting the country’s economic recovery ‘ they’re ready, and here to help the planning – now. 

Rick Stainton
Rick Stainton

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