Conference & Events Manager
University of South Wales
Face-to-face events are returning and Wales’ event industry is optimistic once again.
Wales moved fully into alert level one recently (17 July) and the Welsh Government announced that it is planning to move Wales into alert level zero on 7 August.
This 7 August date was music to the ears of all those working in the event industry in Wales, particularly those in the business events industry, who work indoors running conferences, award ceremonies, networking events and exhibitions. From this date – as long as the current public health situation allows – there will be no limits on the numbers of people who can meet in public places or at events and it is expected that physical distancing rules will be lifted too. So, all conferences and events can resume once again.
This is what the industry has been waiting for, for the last 16 months!
It has been a challenging time for this sector. Many freelancers I know lost all their work projects and ended up working in retail; event management companies and audio-visual companies were forced to diversify to survive; numerous experienced and skilled contacts were made redundant; and suppliers in this sector, such as photographers and caterers who once had full books, had to rely on grants and loans to get them through this period.
Everyone in this industry is ready to get back to work.
And it’s not just the delivery side of the industry optimistic about the return – many clients are also excited to plan their next event. In the University of South Wales’ conference and events team, we have seen our enquiries increase tenfold over the last few weeks and our conference centre room booking diary is filling up fast for the rest of 2021.
But, we must remain cautious as we enter the new phase of the pandemic. We cannot ignore the fact that we are still in a pandemic and that cases have risen sharply over recent weeks. Thankfully, due to Wales’ successful vaccination programme, this increase in cases has not translated into large numbers of people falling seriously ill or needing hospital treatment, but there is still a risk that this third wave could harm our industry once again.
So, the onus is now on organisations and businesses to put measures in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
One new requirement, announced by Welsh Government, is that all organisations and businesses must carry out a COVID- 19 risk assessment for their event, to determine what reasonable measures are needed to be put in place to keep workers and customers and visitors safe. Then, they must provide information on the risks and mitigations identified within this risk assessment to their employees, to ensure that everyone is up to speed on the actions in place.
At the University of South Wales, we are reviewing which mitigating measures we will put in place for conference and events delegates to keep everyone safe, and instil confidence that we are a COVID-safe venue. We also have a Client Charter in place which is sent in advance of each event, explaining what we will provide as an event venue and what we expect of our clients and their visitors.
Since the pandemic, I’ve been working alongside Jill Manley from the Celtic Collection and Sophie Morris, Managing Director of Worldspan, to represent the voice of the Business Event industry on the Event Industry Wales Advisory Group, working alongside Welsh Government and Ministers.
“There is no doubt that there are still concerns about a safe return – however gradual – to live events. Confidence is a real issue. But the general consensus amongst clients is that they want – and indeed need – to meet. And with the continued success of the vaccine programme, confidence is returning. Just look at the crowds at the Euros and at Wimbledon. You can see that the need to meet, collaborate and celebrate is very real, but there is still risk, and we need to conduct proper risk assessments – that is a shared, industry-wide responsibility.
“Individuals, for their own personal reasons and regardless of the mitigations that we put in place, will need reassurance for some time to come. And that is OK. We respect that. But we are finding that they are in the minority; we are seeing demand for face to face events returning – some with a hybrid option – but many will return to face-to-face only. Appetite is there. Desire is real. Confidence is returning.”
The event industry now needs to put measures in place to keep our venues and events safe, so that clients will feel confident to return to face-to-face events. We can then rebuild this once thriving industry, because it offers vital contributions to wider business development and the economy as a whole.