The business events, delegate accommodation and meetings sector is worth £31.2 billion to the UK economy and employs over 700,000 people.
In the latest series of the Government’s opening-up announcements, the sector has been completely overlooked, with the term “conference centres” used to categorise a range of different businesses as being the same for the purposes of keeping them all closed beyond the 4th of July.
Could anyone really define what a conference is when asked?
It’s a broad term that gives little value to a UK-wide industry offering support services to business that range from accommodating training sessions for 10 people to 5000-delegate international conventions.
So many parts of the hospitality industry like pubs, restaurants and hotels have been given the green light to open. Yet meeting and training venues cannot be used to deliver a key service to the many businesses that need all the help they can get.
Right now there is demand to accommodate statutory legal training, exams, development courses, key team meetings, board meetings, strategy days, recruitment days and interviews. That’s before considering the requirement that businesses of all sizes have for buying in extra space day-to-day.
People at work want to interact face-to-face. Businesses have functioned for months with the various forms of online platforms for meeting that we have all had to adapt to. There will be a continued place for the “who’s zooming who” approach as many businesses rationalise and change post-Lockdown. But we know for sure there’s nothing quite as productive as a live, in the flesh performance being involved!
The impact of the Lockdown will lead to a greater need for meeting venues, when teams that have moved from the office space to working permanently from home need the face to face to interaction. For the trying times ahead, allowing us to play our part right now really could create a win-win in the longer term.
How is it any different to sit in a socially distanced meeting room for an exam, training or team meeting than to go to a restaurant or a wedding reception for 30 people?
People are more likely to get close at a large social gathering when spirits are high than at a meeting. Ask yourself, when did you last feel the need to hug or touch a colleague or fellow delegate when you meet up to discuss business?
There are obvious double standards that are adding to the sense of injustice too. For instance how can hotels be open and actively marketing meeting spaces on the basis of providing accommodation which puts them an immediate advantage over the dedicated sectors whilst the specialists are themselves ordered to stay closed?
None of us want to see any business disadvantaged further. We are pleased that hotels and restaurants will reopen. But when they are clearly seen to be aligned to what we do, it seems arbitrarily unfair and nonsensical that the wider range of support businesses cannot reopen too.
More often than not meeting venues are very large and able to offer safe and robust re-opening plans that can adhere above and beyond to social distancing guidelines. As it is industry standard to register delegates and visitors individually, we are well equipped to support the NHS Test and Trace service without the controversy that may arise when punters are asked to register for a visit to the local pub!
Like the many other businesses overlooked and forgotten, the Events & Meetings industry is right at the brink and now being pushed to limits. For us it feels like it will be impossible to survive.
An optimistic estimate is it will take at least 12-18 months to recover if we could reopen now. Whilst “conference centres” remain closed, we can only wonder at the message the Government is really giving to the many sectors and industries that desperately need support services like ours.
British business need us open and available to help give them confidence that they really can return to business as usual.
We are ready and willing to do whatever it would take to open on 4th July. Instead are being left behind.
Read The Backbencher Opinion on this HERE
Emma Jennings is Co-Founder and Director of The Studio Venue Company and a guest writer with The Backbencher