“Our sector will recover, however the industry lacks an identity”

25th Aug, 2021

Slowly and maturely, the industry is setting pieces for a full recovery but on the other side of the English channel, there's also a lot of work to be done. Spearheading representation to government and policymakers, elevating the hotel sector and championing sustainable changes, HBAA is the trade association for the meetings, events and accommodation Industry in the UK. We spoke with Juliet Price, consultant executive director at HBAA, about the future of the industry, role changes, mental health and, of course, Brexit.

1) After more than a year of lockdown, what picture do you trace out of the fall-off in the hotel business and the MICE industry, in the UK and internationally? 

The MICE and accommodation industry has suffered from bans and restrictions on running live in-person meetings and events in the UK and overseas for the past 15 months, and from a lack of specific and accessible financial support from the government. 

A recent HBAA report revealed that our agency community has lost almost 40% of staff in the past 12 months and, coupled with the widely reported redundancies in the venue sector, there are real challenges to be faced in meeting customer demand and expectations of service delivery.  

During this time, corporations have reevaluated their approach to travel, re-evaluated their employees' accountability to climate change and implemented their own commitments to sustainability. Whilst these are positive and timely actions, they will have an impact on the way we travel to stay in accommodation and attend meetings and events as a delegate. 

Hotels, venues and agencies have responded by implementing new protocols aligned to being COVID-19 secure, and invested in new technology to deliver hybrid events. Virtual meetings will in some cases replace in-person meetings. 

There is great eagerness for the return of in person live meetings and events as nothing can replace the energy, atmosphere and connections that are made when people get together. But new platforms will complement physical events, providing greater reach and create choice for both organisers and delegates.

2) HBAA has been a recognised voice in the hotel and venue industry for 23 years. Taking into account the new guidelines and policies adopted by the entire ecosystem, how will your role and representation be defined in 2021? 

HBAA’s renewed vision is: “Driven by leaders, united by collaboration and a significant contributor to an industry which delivers £70bn* spend into the UK economy.” 

Our focus will also be on “spearheading representation to government and policy makers, elevating a sector voice and championing change and sustainable economic health.”

HBAA’s renewed vision is underpinned by four pillars – resilience, innovation, ethics and quality – to ensure it is fit for purpose and ready to help the industry bounce back. Members will always be at the core of the HBAA’s strategy with plenty of opportunities for them to get involved in the association.

What becomes more evident now is the toolkits that members require to revive their businesses and continue to build customer confidence to spend again. 

We have continued to support members through this pandemic with valuable advice on how to deal with the new issues they face in surviving without an income. It has also directly and indirectly been their voice into the government.  We have seen positive results from this including grants being awarded, business event site visits being permitted and a further extension to the furlough scheme. 

Our resilient sector will recover, however what remains of concern and unchanged is that the industry lacks an identity. HBAA will continue to shine a light on our industry throughout 2021 and beyond and, in collaboration with other trade associations, we are united in supporting and shaping our future. 

“We have seen demand for events in the domestic market rising from September onwards with a strong start in 2022 especially for larger bookings.”

3) Supporting future generations and the mental health in the event industry is part of the core values that HBAA drives in its membership vision. How can we shape the future of the sector with these values in mind?

Mental health awareness has been a core campaign for HBAA for many years and, following the impact of COVID-19 on the industry, it has never been more important for the HBAA to take steps to protect the mental health and wellbeing of our members and the wider industry. The impact of uncertainty on mental health is a long-known cause of anxiety and this affects every aspect of both work and personal life. We continue to run regular workshops on a variety of topics related to mental health and wellbeing and campaign for the industry to have more trained mental health first aiders. 

As one of our charitable partners this year, we have selected EventWell, which is dedicated to cultivating better mental health and wellbeing, supporting and serving the industry community with the knowledge and tools they need to stay well.

4) 17th May 2021 was a milestone for event planners, hoteliers and general activity in the UK as the country got back into full swing. Are you expecting a sudden boom in shows, events and accommodations or a lingering pent-up demand in the near future? 

There was a flood of bookings and confirmations after that milestone and the UK government was hoping to end lockdown restrictions on 21st June, the next milestone in the roadmap, but this has now been delayed to 19th July. There is a strong desire from the corporate sector to get back to face-to-face meetings and events, nothing beats it. We have seen demand for events in the domestic market rising from September onwards with a strong start in Q1 2022 especially for larger bookings.

“HBAA’s renewed vision is underpinned by four pillars – resilience, innovation, ethics and quality – to ensure it is fit for purpose and ready to help the industry bounce back.”

5) The HBAA also relaunched the "Meet Safe, Meet Smart" campaign to reinforce the event roadmap and the hotel recovery in the UK. Can you talk me through the action plan of this campaign in greater detail?

We launched our ‘Meet Safe, Meet Smart’ campaign with a supporting member action group to boost consumer confidence to kick-start the meetings and events sector. The campaign has showcased the safety features of meetings at hotels and venues which have invested in protocols to be COVID-19 secure. It has also highlighted the flexibility of contractual terms and conditions at all venues involved.

The campaign focused on providing facts, driving confidence and emphasising that booking these venues offers delegates and organisers tangible assurances.

6) After several studies and polls, what is HBAA’s official position on Brexit impact? Where does the UK Event Industry stand here?

HBAA carried out an annual survey of members on the anniversary of the Brexit vote and every year staffing and recruitment was seen as a big issue looming. Now, with visa requirements in place and exacerbated by the pandemic and restrictions on overseas travel, the UK hospitality and events sector is facing the harsh reality now that it is trying to reopen with a tremendous skills shortage and, alongside other major industry associations, is asking for government help in making it easier to recruit from overseas.

*source BVEP events report 2020

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