In approaching the third anniversary of the Brexit referendum, London conference venues and the events industry remain uncertain of the future.
With the UK events industry valued at £42.1 billion, and conferencing dominating 42% of this, the concerns seem warranted. Nevertheless, in a recent survey of event professionals, an impressive 40% expected an increase to their 2019 budgets. Plus, a further 30% forecasted an expanding workforce with new hires.
The European Council awarded a second extension of Article 50 earlier this year, with the deadline now October 2019. With this in mind, we examine the industry landscape and evaluate the impact on the UK events industry.
A STAFFING CRISIS
Potentially the most immediate threat to the events industry is a strain on the vast pool of essential workers. Currently, 20% of the workforce are EU nationals, filling roles from AV experts and caterers to casual staff.
As uncertainty still looms over most industries, EU nationals may become wary of accepting long term roles in the UK. In the recent survey from the Hotel Booking Agents Association (HBAA), 10% of businesses reported that Brexit had a major impact on recruitment. In the same survey, a further 23.1% said it had a slight effect on their recruitment.
Despite this, most businesses (67.3%) reported no impact on recruitment and 86.3% have made no change to their recruitment process. These both suggest that confidence remains in the events and hospitality sector.
Additionally, in 2018 saw the launch of the UK Events Industry Board’s Talent Taskforce. This new research programme was created to examine and report on how the industry attracts and retains its talent. Changes such as this show a positive step towards keeping the sector competitive post-Brexit. As well as demonstrating direct action against the staffing crisis that threatens the industry.
LONDON CONFERENCE VENUES SUFFER AS COMPANIES MOVE ABROAD
From 2015 to 2017, London remained 3rdin the International Congress and Convention Association’s (ICCA) rankings of destinations for business events. The city is responsible for a huge influx of international entrepreneurs each year.
However, 2018 saw a slight drop in London’s rankings to 5th place, following Barcelona, Paris, Vienna & Berlin. Whilst minor, this demonstrates the effect that Brexit is having on the UK events industry, shown through a few factors.
Along with the challenges already facing companies promoting to international clients, Brexit brings a new potential threat. In the past few months, we’ve seen multiple major companies begin to downsize their presence in the UK.
This year alone, we’ve seen Sony relocating its legal base to Amsterdam and Dyson moving to Singapore. Does the migration of these industry giants indicate UK’s global popularity as a destination for conferences and industry events is falling?
IT’S NOT ALL DOOM AND GLOOM
Whilst Brexit uncertainty remains in the industry, the two years since Article 50 was invoked has allowed issues to settle.
The recent HBAA survey uncovered that for a total of 57.7% Brexit has had no effect on their business as a whole, up 10% from the year prior.
The recent HBAA survey uncovered that for 57.7% of participants Brexit has had no effect on their business as a whole. This is up an impressive 10% from the year prior. Furthermore, those saying Brexit had a major effect on business (5.8%) or slight effect (36.5%) have reduced from previous years.
These results indicate that the immediate challenges of more cautious clients and the sterling decrease causing rising costs are now reducing. Businesses have adjusted to this new climate and the early panic is starting to ebb from the event conference industry.
HBAA Chairwoman Louise Goalen comments; “Over the last 12 months these challenges seem to have settled down slightly and businesses have adjusted. Now everyone is warily waiting to see what happens next.”
DIGITAL INNOVATION IN A TECH AGE
As we’ve already experienced, Brexit is going to shake-up the events industry to some extent. However, this could be a driver for some positive change in the industry. In particular, new challenges facing London conference venues and other businesses has caused them to innovate their standard practices. As well as taking advantage of the vast amount of opportunities that new technologies stand to offer.
Lingering issues, including reliance on paper and inadequately prepared for online trading, might now be solved with these innovations. This may also stand to be what keeps the UK events industry relevant on a global scale. As costs rise, clients will want more and employing the latest technological advancements helps event professionals in meeting these needs.
Change can already be seen in the industry. New opportunities include taking advantage of AI technologies from facial recognition to conference schedules curated for each attendee. These make events far more enjoyable for your audience whilst embracing the demands of the digital age.
In this, the efficiency and harmonious delivery of an event is significantly enhanced, and consumer demands are constantly being met. This results in businesses of all sizes being able to produce events that innovate and run successful events.
LOOKING TO THE FUTURE
Ultimately, with the continuous changes to the economic and political landscapes in the UK, Brexit remains a divisive subject. It continues to leech uncertainty across all sectors of UK business in and with the EU.
Despite this uncertainty, an abundance of opportunities remains for the UK event industry to prosper in the coming years. Especially, as the recent Eventbrite survey suggests, with 60% of companies predicting they will run more events this year. It seems the UK is protecting its status as a desirable destination for events.
As of now, business is continuing as usual. The industry emerges unscathed from the immediate hysteria following the invoking of Article 50. The only thing that everyone can remain sure about is that we are living in a state of uncertainty, both economically and in the events industry. Whatever the outcome on 31st October, this state of uncertainty is here to stay.