ExCeL London CEO Jeremy Rees makes venue ‘more of a destination’

Jeremy Rees, ExCeL London CEO spoke to M&IT, revealing his plans on the future of the event space.

How do you measure event success?
I think the ultimate measure of success is our customers returning to ExCeL London, growing their shows and making them the must-attend event, in whatever market they serve. We conduct huge amounts of qualitative and quantitative research, across our customers, exhibitors and visitors, and are consistently looking for marginal gains to ensure events hosted with us continue to thrive.

Nothing makes me prouder than walking round the venue listening to the languages of the world, seeing globally recognised brands, delivering highly engaging, informative content, driving the future agenda of any given industry sector.

We are delighted that events at ExCeL London are thriving. Organisers who bring their events to us generally experience a 15 per cent – 20 per cent increase in visitor numbers compared to other European cities. Every year, events hosted at ExCeL deliver £4.5bn in economic impact for London, supporting 37,600 jobs and driving 25 per cent of London’s inbound business tourism and 50 per cent of London’s ICCA-rated delegates.

What have you noticed about budgets today – is there a squeeze on price?
At a time of political and economic insecurity, venues have the opportunity to provide customers with commercial certainty. That said, I think value plays a more important role than price. I believe that if you deliver an amazing experience and a strong return on investment a reasonable profit will be an outcome of that. We remain committed to providing clients with certainty in pricing across every element of their event, no matter how far in advance they book, offering a consultative, partnership approach to deliver a great event outcome for both parties.

How do you manage event safety?
At ExCeL, the safety and wellbeing of everyone who comes to the venue is our top priority. Collaboration between venues and organisers is crucial. By working together, not only can we ensure that the appropriate measures are put in place but also that they are communicated effectively to anyone attending events.

Since you started working at ExCeL, what would you say the major changes are to the events industry today?
I started at ExCeL in 2010. Since then, I believe events have become an even more important part of the marketing mix. They are a driving force for commerce and trade and one of the most effective ways of raising global brand awareness.

In today’s digital world, the one thing that technology can’t replace is face-to-face interaction. Events provide the best opportunity to make new connections, forge meaningful relationships and to learn about and experience new products and services.

Our industry represents a dynamic, creative, world-class sector and is a leading catalyst for business tourism. It drives £39bn of economic impact annually, in the UK alone, and is responsible for attracting, entertaining and engaging 13 million visitors each year.

With the introduction of the new Tourism Sector Deal and the government lobbying that is being led by the likes of the BVEP, I believe there is a much clearer understanding of what the events sector generates for UK Plc.

That said, all of us – suppliers, organisers and exhibitors – are having to work harder than ever before. Gone are the days where you opened the doors and they shall come. Experience is everything. We recognise the importance of delivering innovative events that provide delegates with a truly immersive experience. In an age when people are increasingly time-poor, planners need to deliver an event that is not only worthwhile but is truly memorable.

One of the trends we’ve responded to is the fundamental role that food plays in the overall success of an event. We’ve seen planners who really want to push the boundaries when it comes to catering and have invested more than £15m in developing our food proposition.

The other major change is sustainability. Corporate Social Purpose isn’t now, nor should it ever be, a footnote in company behaviours. I am passionate that, as one of the world’s leading venues, we set the agenda when it comes to sustainability. We have a responsibility to do the right thing, ensuring we are a good corporate citizen.

ExCeL London.

ExCeL London.

What specific in-house capabilities do you have? In what way are you unique?
I am surrounded by a team of more than 200 world-class people, who enable us to host more than 400 events, four million visitors and 40,000 exhibiting companies, every year.

Interestingly many of our staff come from the client-side, which enables us to take a more holistic view and think like a client. We recognise that our success is inextricably linked to that of our customers.

We genuinely care about what our clients do and are committed to helping them achieve great things. We work closely with them to understand the right opportunities for growth and use our knowledge and expertise to ensure events at ExCeL thrive.

To stay ahead of customer expectations, we are constantly investing in the experience, from creating the right arrival through to food and beverage, technology and media amplification. We are committed to creating the best environment to ensure events hosted with us thrive.

A recent example is the transformation of our arrival experience (from Custom House station). The works have included the installation of a living wall, with more than 9,500 plants, as well as new LCD screens, backlit advertising sheets, an overhanging LED digital sign and audio speakers. Together we believe this creates the right experience for the world-leading events hosted at ExCeL.

Ahead of Sibos, the world’s premier financial services events, we have also significantly invested in our technology infrastructure. We have partnered with market leader, Ruckus Networks, to upgrade to the latest W-Fi standard (Wi-Fi 5). This has allowed us to increase the number of concurrent users (client devices) to 100,000, an increase of 300 per cent, further enhancing the experience for our guests. This upgrade will also allow us to seamlessly upgrade to Wi-Fi 6, in 2020, increasing speeds by a further 30 per cent.

We are committed to winning and retaining market-leading shows, which is why we have a long-term plan for investment, to ensure we meet the needs of every client

Event planning is frequently cited as one of the most stressful jobs in the world. What would you say is the most stressful part of your job?
I believe we are based in the greatest city in the world. London is open for business, with a time zone and language that enables trade on a truly global scale. When you bring your event to London, you are instantly within easy reach of inspirational speakers, new business partners and a talent pool of 14 million people, working in world-leading sectors, from technology and fintech to finance and life sciences.

Working in events, which are hugely complex with multiple moving parts, can be stressful. Personally, I thrive on the challenge and believe there is a passion and determination in everyone who works in our industry, to deliver amazing things.

As a business, we recognise that it’s important to find the time to talk about mental health. The wellbeing of everyone who works at ExCeL is vital. We’ve been working with Mental Health First Aid England to provide staff with advice, support and tips to look after their mental wellbeing and will continue to champion positive mental health, across the company.

And the greatest reward?
I am continuously amazed by the power of events and of people. What happens at events can truly change people’s lives and should improve the world around us. I believe, we host events that matter, for people who care.

Events help to engage and inspire thousands of people, through education, technology and insight. As an example, the medical congresses we host champion new research and treatment, that hopefully enables patients to live longer, healthier lives.

We work with such a variety of people to deliver a diverse range of events and experiences. I love walking through the venue and continuingly being surprised and excited by the events that I see. We go from welcoming more than 100,000 ComicCon fans to 35,000 cardiologists, with more than a million international visitors every year. It’s a dynamic environment where every single day innovation, ideas and moments happen that can change people’s lives.

How did you start in the events industry? Was it something you aspired to or was it a happy coincidence?
I’ve worked in the events sector for all my career in several different roles, from running and organising events; to providing technology services for event organisers and latterly as a venue operator.

I joined ExCeL London in 2010 as a sales director a few years after the business was acquired by ADNEC (Abu Dhabi National Exhibitions Company). They and the management team had ambitious investment plans to dramatically increase the capacity of the venue and enhance the local amenities and infrastructure. The initial financial commitment was half a billion pounds. The plans were compelling and the financial foundations strong and I could see a clear path for success for the business.

As time went on, I was asked to take on additional divisional responsibilities ultimately culminating in me taking on the role as CEO.

What advice would you give to an event agency starting out today?
Truly, I am no expert! However, I have observed thousands of events at ExCeL London and have worked with some of the world’s leading agencies. What I’ve observed is that to compete in today’s market, agencies need to be able to offer a highly personalised service, really understanding the unique requirements of any given customer or brand.