By Shaun Hinds, CEO of Manchester Central and Chair of industry bodies Association of Event Venues and the Event Industry Alliance.
The events industry has adapted brilliantly to a myriad of challenges over recent years and I believe we’re all capable and up for the challenge of further innovation as we start 2023 and plan for the years ahead.
In my view, the way to secure further success means hosting events which seamlessly offer outstanding in-person experiences like no other, restoring everybody’s enjoyment in connecting with people, while utilising new technology to enhance things. We know that this triggers more business transactions at conferences and a greater level of pride and participation at leisure events. What else should we be considering this year?
Creating value for audiences
Audiences and delegates will continue to seek top-class, quality event experiences which are both interactive and personalised. Audiences want ‘something different’ for each event they attend, and they are more discerning about which events they will actually go to whether that’s for business or leisure. Companies, too, will be looking to achieve tangible returns on the investments made into event participation. This was a prominent trend last year and event organisers who succeeded did so by being creative and innovative in their event delivery; raising the bar significantly. During 2023, the events industry needs to concentrate on creating value for its audiences, be that in terms of quality of content delivered, opportunities to network and meet people or entertaining audiences in a way that leaves the participants wanting to return again and again.
With plenty to navigate across our busy sector, having versatility built into every events business has got to be an essential. This means making sure to add in a breadth of events and ways to host them which may ordinarily be outside of comfort zones. Increasingly venues will need to offer true ‘destination’ credentials, with the uniqueness of the location and space being a key factor in the decision-making process. Formulaic is out and fantastic is in. There are plenty of opportunities for events professionals to do this during 2023. For example, we opened our doors far more to indoor sporting events over the last 12 months, including the Wheelchair Rugby League World Cup Final, showcasing how Manchester Central can be used in new ways.
‘Normality’ in booking timeframes
Right across the industry I’m hearing that event organisers last year were finalising bookings later than in previous years, which makes sense after the impact of the pandemic. But I expect things to get more on track again during 2023 as normality returns and diaries start to book up much more in advance. We’re well underway with finalising our 2024 diary and are fielding lots of interesting enquiries for 2 or 3 years ahead, which was not happening during and immediately after the pandemic. This extra preparation and planning time means that there is more scope to add to the quality of the event too, a key component to creating experiences and value for audiences.
Exuding and celebrating confidence
The industry must also be far more confident in talking as a whole about its huge positive impact to the UK’s economy and how we are a driver for fantastic levels of tourism in our respective regions. Frankly, we have to do a better job of promoting the UK as the preeminent global events destination. There are mechanisms and bodies in place to help do this, but we need some stability in government which hopefully will allow us to gain the traction needed to allow our unique proposition to realise its ambition and potential.
All of this requires solid metrics and data around our individual and combined impact. Access to reliable data is also an important component to facilitating great events, helping to understand audience sentiment, trends and expectations to stage next-generation events.
I’m an advocate for having a thriving, competitive venue market across all regions of the UK, after all the events sector adds billions to the UK’s economy every year. Right across the events industry, we need to recognise and support each other where possible to ensure that the spectrum of events stakeholders benefit from the value that events bring to our cities and towns – hotel stays, hospitality spends etc – which play an important part to maintaining a great profile for the UK. This year we will see Eurovision come to the North West, that has to be celebrated and maximised upon by the wider events industry so it can benefit as many people and businesses as possible.
A pragmatic approach to immediate challenges
Without doubt all partners involved in organising and hosting events will feel the impact of energy costs at the start of this year and it remains to be seen how that will change throughout the rest of 2023. It’s clear that the current levels are unsustainable for almost all businesses and so we are hopefully in for better news on this as the year progresses. The importance of costing and budgeting all aspects of event delivery from the outset will be even more significant. But underpinning it all is ensuring that all parties maintain a strong, trusted relationship throughout any contracts so that any issues or questions can be resolved along the way.
With my roles at the AEV and EIA, I also intend to lobby more on important industry-wide matters, such as the cost of energy, as a collective. All representatives of the sector are invited to do so because our combined voice will have much more of a lasting impact and potential for change.