It's Time to Meet Again
Business Traveller UK|December 2021 - January 2022
As the pandemic recedes, people are eager to interact face-to-face, and the meetings and events industry is finding its mojo once again
By Hannah Brandler. Photographs by Nanostockk and IStock
It’s been a tough couple of years for the global meetings and events business, but there are signs of recovery. With the successful roll-out of vaccines and the easing of global travel restrictions, meetings, incentives, conferences and events (MICE) are seeing an increase in demand, but it is from a low base. Spending on business events in the UK fell by 80 per cent from 2019 levels during the lockdown period but now, by pioneering a blend of in-person, virtual and hybrid platforms with a focus on sustainability, the future looks brighter.

APPETITE FOR GROWTH

“From a global perspective, the outlook is overwhelmingly optimistic,” says Emma Bason, meetings and events director the UK and Ireland at Amex GBT. “We are witnessing a pent-up demand come to fruition, with meetings being booked just as soon as government restrictions and corporate policies allow.”

David Thompson, event director of IBTM World, agrees. “We’re all emotional beings and we want to have experienced together. The fact that we’ve been starved of them for the past two years has made us realise even more that it’s what we want and love.”

IBTM World 2021, a global MICE industry expo, is taking place at Fira de Barcelona in early December at 70 per cent capacity – a positive step considering the show had been virtual in 2020. “In this environment, it demonstrates that recovery is going well. All trade shows are blueprints of an industry,” Thompson says.

Since the easing of restrictions in the UK there has been a cautious return to in-person gatherings. The first ‘live’ business event took place in April at the 400-person ACC Liverpool venue. “This marked a major step towards rebuilding, with the industry demonstrating its ability and determination to host safe and professional events, and provide a stand-out delegate experience,” says Patricia Yates, deputy

chief executive at Visit Britain. These baby steps were followed by major in-person events on the international stage, namely the G7 Summit in Cornwall in June and COP26 in Glasgow in November.

Inbound international visits are key to the recovery of MICE in the UK, with an average international delegate worth £864 in 2019 compared with £154 for a domestic delegate, according to campaigning and networking organisation Cities Restart. These figures are forecast to grow to £1,078 and £180 respectively by 2026. “It’s important that we offer messages of welcome and reassurance to the global events industry, alongside the practicalities of travel,” says Saara Vuorela-Valladares, head of events at trade association UK Inbound.

43% increase in the UK’s business events industry by 2026 (from 2019 levels)

It will be worth: £27.6bn (up from £19.4bn in 2019) Cities Restart report, The Importance of International Conferences and Business Events to Restarting City Economies, September 2021

67% of respondents believe that in-person meetings will return to pre-pandemic levels within one to two years

81% of events are expected to have an in-person element in 2022

64% of respondents reported increased budgets for 2022, signaling industry growth

SAFETY IS THE TOP PRIORITY

How can meeting planners create a Covid-secure environment for guests and staff? At the time of writing, the UK government has not made it mandatory for people to be fully vaccinated to attend large-scale events. Meeting planners must step into the attendees’ shoes, consider what would make them feel comfortable, and then clearly communicate requirements to guests.

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