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‘A disruption, not a revolution’: etc venues on Covid-19 recovery

This is a disruption, not the start of a revolution in the meetings sector, says Nick Hoare, COO of etc venues

We started to plan not only for reopening and recovery but for the longer term future as soon as we had absorbed the consequences of lockdown and the reality of social distancing and hygiene.

It was quickly clear that the widespread experience of Zoom, Teams and Skype in this period was very likely to disrupt the thoughts of our clients on the structure of future meetings and corporate events; so we conducted a survey of 7,000 of our corporate clients. We asked what they think will happen to meetings plans when offices and venues are open, we asked about their experience of virtual meetings and about the future.

77 per cent of our clients indicated a desire to start back up as soon as possible in 2020 with training and smaller conferences and coincidentally 77 per cent said that following their experience of working from home they thought people would value face‐to‐face meetings even more, or at least the same, as the best way to develop business relationships. Virtual events just can’t replace the opportunity to catch up with colleagues and to make new contacts over a coffee during a break or after.

What does that mean for venues like us? What is reopening going to look like? We think business training for smaller groups will lead the way; clients have found the virtual platforms very difficult on content, quality, engagement levels and internet reliability. Their feedback was encouraging for venues, that the whole experience of remote learning and communication has been expedient but has shown that actual reality absolutely trumps virtual reality.

We see a structural shift in demand for hybrid technology facilitating corporate events. Hybrid events, the blend of virtual and physical, will be a good way to deal with reduced occupancy during social distancing restrictions and allow clients to mix live and virtual attendees. 67 per cent said that the hybrid meetings, which have been delivering for several years and are well‐equipped for, will be more common and almost 80 per cent thought that for smaller meetings they would probably require video‐conferencing facilities.

Once social distancing restrictions are eased, we will see a return of larger corporate events when clients can increase occupancy and add on more social activities.

But first, we must ensure everyone is totally confident that venues are managed to new standards of safety and hygiene and that social distancing measures are in place throughout every venue.

We’ve developed an 18‐point plan – A Breath of Fresh Care ‐ that covers every facet from room space/layout to hygiene and, importantly, food and beverage. For instance, to accommodate social distancing we’re offering upgraded room sizes.

We have collaborated with Cleanology, with its scientific approach to cleaning and with Navitas (formally known as the European Safety Bureau) who will audit our venues to the new Covid Controlled Certification scheme. The Certification scheme represents a new level of audited certainty for clients that venues are prepared to a clean and safe standard.

Food and beverage have also been adapted to meet our clients’ needs. In our survey, while 55 per cent were happy with our existing self‐service buffets options when we reopen, 31 per cent wanted the addition of pre‐packed meals. Our chefs have come up with new no‐touch lunches and snacks to ensure the same offering as before.

This is a disruption to the established format of meetings and events and we have taken this opportunity to review what we do from first principles, to listen to our clients and create a new way of operating for this new reality. But this isn’t a revolution; gradually once social distancing measures are lifted, we expect meetings to return to somewhere closer to the old reality, because there is no substitute for a face‐to‐face meeting.