What the Omicron wave can teach us about events

Analysis /  / 
The Omicron Covid variant has forced conferences and events to postpone. Image: Fusion Medical, Unsplash. The Omicron Covid variant has forced conferences and events to postpone. Image: Fusion Medical, Unsplash.

M&IT Expert and managing director of Sledge, Sarah Yeats, reveals what the emergence of the Omicron variant tells us about the events sector and how it leaves us better prepared for the future...

As restrictions eased last spring the industry returned to a sense of normality, and by the summer, large-scale conferences and festivals had become the norm.

While COVID-19 health and safety measures were still in place, we were feeling positive about the future of the industry, with ‘bouncing back’ and ‘events are back’ key phrases that would often arise in conversations.

Photo Credit: Sarah Yeats, MD, Sledge

Then in December the Omicron variant began to make headlines around the world. It was back to working from home, and there was a sense of uneasiness in the air. It really demonstrated just how quickly the pandemic can change, and with it, restrictions around our daily lives, travel, and of course, events.

Over the holidays this got me thinking: what has this latest variant taught us about our industry, and how can we use these learnings to prepare for the future?

There’s a need for long-term protective measures

Firstly, it’s reminded me of just how vital it is that we formulate and introduce standard operating procedures that safeguard the sector not just in the face of the pandemic, but when other unexpected events occur in the future.

These include industry-wide insurances around event cancellations, which we should be aiming to include in our contracts as standard. In the immediate future this relates to COVID-19, particularly as 69 per cent of eventprofs have stated they’ve not yet secured insurance for Covid-19 related issues, but we should consider other external factors such as weather, delays in venue openings, or supply and staffing shortages here too.

The same goes for attendee, crew and employee health and safety. Developing standards and policies around this, and revising them as a collective on a regular basis, will help us prevent burnout, stress and physical illness or injury.

Pre-production is evolving like never before

Event professionals by our very nature are incredibly organised, and even pre-pandemic, we always had a plan B prepped and ready to go on the occasion we needed to change our approach up at the last minute. Omicron has only elevated this, and now a plan C, D (and then some) are vital.

This relates to not only changing restrictions and travel mandates. Attendee, and in turn client sentiment, is changing more frequently too. While we might have delivered the same event previously, it’s now up to us to develop multiple experiences in one, sometimes with very short lead times.

This includes shifting to a hybrid event, reducing in-person numbers, or creating separate spaces for attendees at in-person events based on their comfort levels. On one end of the spectrum some might be comfortable coming into contact with only those who have provided negative lateral flow tests, whereas others aren’t phased. The question then arises: how do we do all of this, while working within the same budget? Again, this highlights the need for more formalised processes around key areas like these.

We must be the strategic consultants our clients need

As the new variant emerged, our team, like I’m sure most of the industry, was on calls with clients, making the relevant adjustments to their in-person events, developing alternative formats, increasing health and safety regulations, and developing attendee communications.

During times like these we need to remind ourselves that we’re the experts. In essence, it’s our time to shine, so we step up, and ideally, already have solutions in place which reflect external happenings. By taking the stress and workload away from clients, we reassure them that we’ve got this, which ultimately ensures they continue to invest in our craft.

Don't forget CSR

Last minute changes, shorter lead times and a smaller talent pool all point to increased stress levels. While we need to act fast and support our clients, it’s important we balance this out so that the health and wellbeing of our people remains at the forefront. This means developing wellbeing policies and plans, keeping them in place throughout the year, and looking to external experts to educate and inform.

The same goes for sustainability. We must strive to develop environmentally conscious solutions even when time and resources are tight, and educate our clients about the benefits of this approach. In an ideal world we’re already working with clients on developing a long-term sustainability strategy that applies to their entire event portfolio, and this strategy remains in place even when an event needs to evolve.

We were largely forgotten about as the pandemic took hold, so let’s bind together and safeguard our industry, organisations and people for the future. How? By developing measures as a collective today.

Paul Harvey
Written By
Paul Harvey
M&IT editor Paul Harvey is a journalist with more than 15 years of experience. He began his career in the local press, working for various titles across the north. Since joining M&IT in 2013, he has become a trusted and respected voice in the sector, championing event professionals and reporting on all aspects of the events industry for the brand.

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