Event trends and predictions for 2021

By Anna Wolfram

Following a year of unfathomable unpredictability, hear from Custard Communications’ clients and experts in their fields as we look ahead to predict the landscape for events in the coming months.

The resurgence of QR, digital health and touchless tech
While QR codes and Bluetooth connectivity have been around for some time, their use, especially in UK hospitality, will continue to rise. Hospitality businesses have been using QR codes for contactless menus, and the NHS Covid-19 app has also become a requirement for customers to check into when visiting public venues. Along with the test and trace app, facial mapping and thermal imaging scanners are a must for monitoring the health and wellbeing of delegates and visitors. There’s scope for the introduction of a COVID passport, vaccine certificate or similar new initiative from the Government to determine ‘safe’ travellers and delegates.

Remaining as ‘contactless’ as possible will no doubt be a goal for 2021, as it has been when the pandemic first struck. From voice recognition in meeting rooms (used for controlling blinds, screens, lights etc), to sensors, facial recognition, Bluetooth access control and even contactless banking, the presence of touchless technology will be an important standard for all industries alike.

Sean Spencer, Head of IET Venues

The year for extensive and open evaluations
Despite the ongoing oscillations in government restrictions and local tiers, we can be confident that business meetings and events will return in a physical capacity in 2021. As we all await the highly anticipated date at which venues can finally fully re-open, we will see venues and operators doing all they can to provide essential assurance and confidence to both event buyers and bookers.

Corporate clients will understandably be more risk-adverse than ever before, a trend that will stay with us for the long-term. This will drive venues towards the achievement of service and safety accreditations, employing more rigorous evaluation processes and demonstrating their quality of service through open review and feedback systems.

Jane Longhurst, Chief Executive of The Meetings Industry Association

A demand for outside space
We’re noticing a clear uplift in enquiries for outdoor events for as many as 1,500 guests from late Spring 2021 as confidence builds in event planners among news of vaccines. Given that throughout the turbulence of the changing regulations, the outdoors has consistently been given precedence for both social gatherings and business events, naturally, demand for expansive outside space is on the rise. As the weather improves into Spring and Summer, it’s likely that more event organisers will look to diversify and meet outside where possible. As a result, and as we’re seeing in many existing hospitality businesses, venues will adapt their contingency plans to offer sheltered outside meeting spaces, heaters and durable meeting facilities.

Rachel Azzopardi, Head of Catering and Events at Regent’s Conferences & Events

COVID-secure bubbles and work retreats

Over the next 12-months we predict we will see high demand for exclusive-use bookings. In line with COVID-19 guidance, elite teams and athletes need to operate in ‘bubbles’ to be able to meet, train and work together, so venues will need to be able to adapt their format to be able to offer full exclusive-use training, meeting and accommodation facilities.

Also, we feel that the rise in exclusive-use and COVID-secure bubbles will lead to an increase in large UK businesses offering ‘work retreats’. Usually seen in American businesses, work retreats enable teams to meet and socialise outside of the office environment. As many UK businesses are now adapting to a full remote working structure, businesses will be looking for alternative ways to get their teams together to host events, team building activities and focus on wellbeing.

Sam Woolmore, marketing director, The Lensbury

Moving sustainability to the top of the agenda
In 2020, many hospitality businesses saw a shift in focus from sustainability to short-term safety with the vital introduction of PPE, stringent cleaning products and precautionary signage to ensure delegate and staff safety. With Brexit round the corner and COVID concerns still very real, supply chains are likely to be scrutinised, with many organisations opting to support local businesses and in turn reducing their carbon footprint and unnecessary travel. Despite encouraging developments with vaccines, the pandemic as yet shows no signs of abating, but the hospitality sector is adapting to accommodate amazingly. It will therefore be a key priority to continue placing safety at the top of the agenda, but with a longer-term outlook to tackle the issue of single-use PPE and constant waste. Venues will hopefully consider recyclable face masks and gloves, digital signage and heavy-duty floor direction mats to negate the need for regularly replacing stickers – as a starting point!

Tristan Ayer, Client Services Manager at 15Hatfields

Monetising hybrid while regaining confidence
After 2020’s lockdown, there is certainly a burning desire for live events to return to enable people to meet, interact and engage face-to-face as we’re starting to see the green shoots with enquiries. Although virtual meetings can never replace the eye contact, the body language nuances, the level of networking and the way successful professional working relationships can be formed face-to-face, while the restrictions remain in place many will still be relying on hybrid meetings – particularly those involving an international long-haul audience, which isn’t set to return until very late 2021 at the earliest. QEII hosted hybrid events long before Covid-19, indeed one of our last events before lock-down in March, was a hybrid. The key for venues will be to ensure that they can monetise and offer the same flexibility and price points to their hybrid offering. So, being able to set up and de-rig efficiently and having the flexibility to offer the capabilities such as a virtual studio will be key in the short-term, while we actively demonstrate that meeting face-to-face can be achieved safely and securely.

Diane Waldron, Sales & Marketing Director at the QEII Centre

The ongoing evolution of digital

While 2021 will be a year in which many will hope for COVID-19 restrictions to be largely eradicated, ongoing restrictions on global travel combined with the lengthy restoration of public confidence means that events will not simply return to their pre-COVID capacities and formats overnight.

As an increasing number of virtual event studios are permanently installed on-site across UK venues, the utilisation of our growing capabilities surrounding virtual event offerings will now become the norm for organisations and event organisers. Hybrid formats will become recognised as standard practice for events, not just to compensate for any mandatory limits placed on physical attendance, but for the vast benefits surrounding event accessibility, sustainability and efficiency.

Robin Purslow, Managing Director, Eclipse