This article originally appeared in the November/December edition of Gambling Insider magazine: Natalka Antoniuk, content writer at events company Quadrant2Design, discusses the hybrid twist that is making ICE 2021 possible.
This year has not exactly been great for the UK events industry. Back in March, when UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson put us all into lockdown, events were the first to close their doors. Today, almost eight months later, they have yet to receive a restart date.
It makes a lot of sense. The first step in protecting a population is putting a stop to mass gatherings. And the industry didn’t bat an eyelid. Quite the opposite. They donated ExCel London and six more of their venues to the Government to support the NHS by becoming Nightingale Hospitals.
Renowned for contributing over £70bn ($90bn+) annually to the UK’s economy, supporting over 700,000 full-time jobs and achieving year-on-year growth unheard of in any other sector; the events industry is facing a crisis. Unfortunately, nearly a year has passed without any of the venues, event organisers or suppliers raising an invoice. But it was Winston Churchill who famously said: “Never let a good crisis go to waste.”
First to close, last to reopen
The events industry was the first to close its doors and will be the last to reopen. Back in March, we predicted nothing would happen until September 2020 and then we would slowly start rebuilding. Johnson then announced 1 October as our restart date. The industry was thrilled and excited to be back to planning the events we all love.
Unfortunately, the second spike in coronavirus cases forced Johnson to pull this restart date. At a press conference on 22 September, he announced a set of new restrictions including the rule of six, larger fines for breaching the rules and the withdrawal of the events restart date. The hardest part of this announcement was Johnson’s theory that these restrictions could be in place for six months. For the events industry, this meant a further six months with no revenue.
This news devastated thousands of businesses and employees, particularly with the furlough scheme coming to an end. Many events businesses can’t work because of the COVID-19 guidelines. This means they can’t encourage their employees back to work, not even for one-third of their hours. Therefore, Rishi Sunak’s Winter Economic Plan excluded the entire industry. With no restart date in sight, businesses have had to reposition and find something useful to offer their customers.
The virtual event shift
Virtual events aren’t a new concept. They weren’t borne out of isolation madness. They’ve always been seen as the most sustainable way to run an event. No travelling, no venue, no materials to dispose of – the eco-friendly event alternative.
Not to mention the financial benefits. Event organisers spend fortunes on venue and equipment hire, none of which are necessary in a virtual environment. Visitors don’t have to think about travel or accommodation costs, so the idea of attending a virtual event is already more appealing.
When COVID-19 swept the globe and mass gatherings were banned, virtual events really started taking off. One platform, 6Connex, recorded 1,000% growth having hosted over 50,000 virtual events since the start of the pandemic. It’s great to see the events industry pivot, successfully, when facing a crisis. However, unfortunately, many will be left behind.
The events industry supply chain
My company supplies exhibition stands to businesses attending trade shows such as ICE London, Vaper Expo and the BETT Show. Our product can’t simply pivot online. And even if it could, what would we do with a warehouse full of exhibition stands?
The same goes for thousands of businesses that are involved in the event supply chain. From portaloos to glassware, musicians to security, companies are at risk of extinction with the reality of a virtual events industry. Because of this harsh truth, the industry is preparing for mass redundancies and closures. A survey by Feast It found 61% of businesses in the events industry don’t think they will still exist in six months. But it is not the end.
Hybrid events are unique in that they ensure no business operating in the events industry is left behind. They create new roles, more jobs and a safe environment for exhibitors and visitors to do business. This growing trend is seen industry-wide. Even though we still aren’t able to conduct in-person shows, venues are launching virtual event studios to prepare themselves for the future
Hybrid events are the future. A hybrid event takes place both in a virtual environment and a physical space. Those who aren’t bound by travel restrictions, local lockdowns or of higher risk are able to attend the show. Albeit with much less handshaking.
Those who can’t attend a physical show don’t have to miss out. The virtual half of the event offers networking, speaker sessions and exhibitor showcases. The novelty of virtual is wearing off after 5,872,999 Zoom meetings. People who attend the virtual side of a hybrid event will do so with intent.
Hybrid events are unique in that they ensure no business operating in the events industry is left behind. They create new roles, more jobs and a safe environment for exhibitors and visitors to do business. This growing trend is seen industry-wide. Even though we still aren’t able to conduct in-person shows, venues are launching virtual event studios to prepare themselves for the future. ExCel London recently launched a virtual studio, with capacity for 30 visitors, a stage and production equipment.
This studio requires almost no space compared to its dormant exhibition halls. Physical events aren’t compromised. They benefit from larger visitor numbers and more captured data – every trade show marketers dream.
Getting ready for ICE 2021
So why should the gaming industry be ready for this? Event organisers are going full steam ahead for ICE 2021. Taking place in June at ExCel, this show will likely be one of the first business events in over a year. We are also expecting it to be one of the first hybrid events to take place.
Stuart Hunter, Managing Director at Clarion Gaming, has already announced a series of virtual events set to take place from February and running through until the physical show. The Road to ICE and iGB 2021 will provide exclusive previews and allow the market to meet, months before the event.
The hybrid events of the future
The event industry has struggled. Nobody is denying it. The pivot to virtual put a lot of venues and suppliers at risk. The novelty of virtual events wore off and as the furlough scheme drew to a close, the excluded events industry was left facing a crisis.
But out of the ashes rose an alternative. Hybrid events not only give venues and suppliers the chance to utilise their skills and run in-person events, but they create thousands of jobs as teams will be put in place to run the virtual element.
Visitors can choose to attend the in-person show to meet, mingle and learn from industry leaders. Yet they have the option to attend the virtual element of the event instead. Travel restrictions and local lockdowns won’t get in the way of this industry. Visitor numbers will likely be higher than we’ve ever seen. What was it Churchill said, again? Oh yeah, “Never let a good crisis go to waste.”