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UK Events Industry vs Coronavirus

The latest study by Shelton Fleming Group analyzes the situation in the events industry, during the coronavirus pandemic.

The study, conducted by Aurora Market Research, between 20th and 24th of March 2020 for the Shelton Fleming Group, well established UK experiential agency, exposes the key factors that will decide the future of the events industry. While 89% of Brits are currently concerned with contracting coronavirus at a large indoor meeting, up to 76% believe that online and smaller, localised, connected events are good alternatives during the pandemic.

A £42 billion industry in danger

 
Britain’s events sector is a significant chunk of the UK economy, worth over £42bn annually [1], supporting an equivalent of over 570,000 full time jobs. Around £33bn (79%) is spent on business meetings such as conferences, trade fairs, incentive and corporate events.  Currently, it’s also one of the worst affected by the COVID-19 outbreak.
 
A Shelton Fleming Group study, conducted on a representative sample of over 1000 UK nationals, proves, that 89% of Britons are currently concerned with contracting the coronavirus at a large, indoor event (e.g. concert, tradeshow, conference or a company party).
 
The results of the online survey conducted last week for Shelton Fleming are alarming. Despite the fact there seems to be some tolerance for smaller meetings, respondents are less afraid of attending events of up to 20 participants – 89% expressed concern for the larger and mass events whilst the pandemic prevails.   
 
Soap and water don't take away the current fear of contracting coronavirus. Less than a third (31%) of respondents agree with the statement that proper hygiene measures provided by the organisers are enough to ensure health and safety at events.[2]

“There’s no way of knowing what the events industry will look like, once this is all over. We do know that most major events in the first half of 2020 have been either cancelled or rescheduled to autumn and winter. For many agencies, hotels, caterers, artists and AV suppliers it’s the ultimate stress test. The small and medium-size companies need to find alternative, innovative ways to generate income during the pandemic.  Our study may help determine what steps they have to take now.” – says Maurice Fleming, Managing Director of Shelton Fleming Group.

Multi-billion sector at risk, but there are alternatives
 
Are we facing an apocalyptic scenario in the events industry? Well, not necessarily. The respondents that took part in Shelton Fleming Group’s survey do see ways for the events industry to adapt. 76% of Brits believe that virtual (online) events are a good alternative to live events during the pandemic. The public opinion is supported by the business community, with 77% of top and medium-level managers agreeing with the statement.
 
Moreover, fully online solutions are not the only alternative to traditional live events. The majority of respondents see the potential for a constellation of small, local events, connected via the Internet – 63% of Britons believe they are a good alternative to large gatherings, while 59% of business managers support this statement.

Andrew Reid, Strategy and Communications Director at Shelton Fleming Group points out: “Unless the effects of the current pandemic are mitigated in a matter of a few months, the events sector in the UK will almost certainly confront recessionary pressures. It’s already happening. That's why we need to act now. New, more digital alternatives, like virtual communities and events may help some agencies and freelancers to stay afloat in the time of crisis. Other businesses, such as hotels, catering companies, travel operators – these sectors will be massively disrupted, public help for them is a necessary measure. One thing is clear, we have to innovate and adapt to the situation.”

Technology may save the industry, especially for business events
 
The current situation of the events industry may look grim, but luckily, thanks to technology, there’s some light at the end of the tunnel. Different tech solutions can be applied, especially to the business events sector (which accounts for the majority of the industry spend).  With the majority of managers seeing the potential of connected, interactive events, there’s plenty of opportunities for the agencies, event planners and AV suppliers. More focus on providing more space to avoid crowding and focus on hygiene could become the norm.
 
According to the results of Shelton Fleming’s survey, up to 71% of respondents holding a managerial position believe, that it would be suitable to offer business events (networking conference, workshop or lecture) in a format such as, organised online, in virtual reality or as a localised, connected event.
 
Interestingly – almost a quarter of them (23%) can imagine a traditionally physical type of event – trade show, organized online! 
 
The vision of the event industry moving temporarily to the digital world, one way or another, seems to be compelling for many of the decision-makers in the business world. 72% of managers (top and middle level) are interested in fully online events, where all the content is streamed via web, while 64% would like to attend small, local, connected events, where participants in different locations can interact with each other, using technology allowing online collaboration. 
 
Business executives are open to even more unusual solutions. Shelton Fleming’s study suggests that 50% of them would be interested in attending events that take place fully in virtual reality, using a VR headset, while 43% would like to see the host or guest speaker presenting at multiple connected events, as a holographic projection. Technology allowing such solutions is available.
 
We will have to wait until at least the end of 2020 to determine the long-term impact of coronavirus on the events industry, but it’s already clear, innovation will have to accelerate for many of the companies to survive.
 

[1]
In terms of direct spend by event delegates, attendees and organisers, source: “2018 Event Industry Pulse Report”, commissioned by Eventbrite 

[2]
“Events industry vs COVID-19” Study, conducted by Aurora Market Research, between 20th and 24th of March, 2020 for Shelton Fleming Group, engaging a representative group of 1008 UK nationals (including 148 top and middle-level managers)
 

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