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A tale of two cities: London and New York eventprofs compare notes

UK and US eventprofs have both endured months of lockdown, social distancing, limitations on numbers, travel bans, furlough – and that’s just the start of it.

The challenges facing the events sector the world over have been similar – but the response and attitudes of governments, event organisers and prospective delegates have varied from country to country.

To delve into the differences and similarities between running venues in the UK and the US over the last 12 months and considering the challenges of reopening and recovery, Garrett Ronan, US chief operating officer of etc.venues based in New York and Adam Simpson, director of marketing for etc.venues based in London compare and contrast their experiences.

What limitations have you and event organisers been operating under?
Garrett Ronan (GR) After opening our flagship venue in February 2020 and hosting our first events, we have effectively been unable to hold any since. For six months we could host events for up to 50 people under strict social distancing and hygiene rules.

Our industry here has since had to face up to fear, uncertainty, and a lack of confidence in getting back to meeting in person safely. The root cause of this, in my opinion, is that in the US and especially New York City, a variety of restrictions and regulations have been imposed by multiple authorities, (Federal, State and City), many of which were inconsistent and confusing.

The UK’s road map has been comparatively much clearer.

Adam Simpson (AS) The UK has had three complete lockdowns that have restricted in-person events entirely. From March to July 2020, there was a complete lockdown. From early July to the end of October up to 30 people including technical staff were allowed in a room, with social distancing of 2m and strict safety procedures. Local and later national restrictions were re-imposed until early November when the second national lockdown began.

After a partial relaxation around Christmas and New Year, the third national lockdown began in early January. Since March, restrictions have been slowly lifted on a clear roadmap and meetings for up to 1,000 restarted on 17 May.

What changes to the way people are working and businesses operating are influencing meetings and events?
GR: In New York, flexi office suppliers are consolidating or changing their models to offer subscription or memberships to accommodate a greater interest in a work anywhere approach. The emphasis has shifted from community to privacy. As a result, we predict an increase in demand for larger private dedicated meeting space. Teams will want to meet and collaborate more often and our venues are well placed to serve.

AS: A third of corporate companies are downsizing their office space in the UK and with this comes a reduction in internal meeting space. At the same time their employees are working remotely. This will increase the need for more ‘off-site’ meetings and events. To maintain engagement and connections, teams will meet formally more often and this will put greater importance on the occasions when people do meet.

What are the biggest challenges to rebuilding the live events market in your city?
GR: Fundamentally, it’s trying to plan/operate in a constantly changing environment and communicating to keep everyone up-to-date about any restrictions. Ultimately, we must rebuild planner and delegate confidence. Many businesses are encouraging staff to return to the office. This will make all the difference for events. NYC & Co’s campaign “Meet Local NYC” will also hopefully persuade local businesses to bring their events to NYC.

AS: In London we face three challenges; overcoming delegates’ concerns about travelling to and from the venue by public transport; demonstrating that the venues are safe and secure and helping people to realise the benefits of face-to-face are worth leaving the comfort of home to attend meetings and events again.

The UK government has been running pilot events with participants tested pre and post event for Covid-19. The Times newspaper article about the results, headlined ‘Big events without masks are no riskier than shopping, trials show’ was a major boost of confidence to the industry and potential delegates.

What is the current ‘state of the market’?
GR: In April venue restrictions went to 50 per cent of their capacity. This was fully removed from 19 May. The vaccine roll out has played a big part in this – NYC is now more than 52 per cent fully vaccinated and those who are vaccinated no longer have to wear masks. This is boosting the increasingly positive mindset about being in the city.

With no travel restrictions within the US, everything is set for events to start unrestrained once more.

AS: Indoor meetings and events for up to 1,000 people began here again on 17 May and from 21 June, all remaining restrictions are due to be lifted.

How are enquiries and bookings for events for 2021 and 2022?
GR: Enquiries are growing and it is encouraging that short lead enquiries are coming through from local businesses with smaller requirements (20-30 attendees) for events in the next three months. Most enquiries are for 2022 particularly for larger events (for up to 300 attendees) with a few from September 21 onwards.

In NYC, the appetite for hybrid events is still low. Planners are keen to switch back to fully in-person events as soon as they can.

AS: We took close to £2m in enquiries when the UK roadmap was announced and have seen similar spikes in enquiries and bookings after each government milestone. We have also seen a recent surge in short lead meetings and events from SMEs. 2022 is building well for larger events.

Nearly all the events are live only, a trend which matches our surveys which showed 88 per cent wanting to return to live events, an increase of 11 per cent in six months.

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