The travel corridor has finally opened up with the US and we’re delighted to be able to get back to face-to-face events with our American friends.
Our Commercial Director, Jonny Read spoke to Josh Novick, Vice President North America – Business Tourism for London & Partners. Hot on the heels of his first trip back to the capital since the outbreak of Covid, Josh gave us a measure of what the appetite for live events is across the Pond.
Read on for his views on the eternal attraction of London and the perfect storm of event planning coming the industry’s way.
Jonny Read: Hi Josh, obviously so much has changed on the events landscape since we last saw you. Happily, live events are back here in the UK and now that the travel corridor has opened up between us, we’re hoping to be welcoming our American friends back.
What is it about London that makes it an attractive destination for organisations in the United States?
Josh Novick: Well, for a start it’s the best large city there is! The things that are great about London haven’t changed, despite the pandemic. It’s the European epicentre of so many industries, whether it’s finance and banking or the creative industries, the tech cluster, the life sciences, its healthcare expertise. It’s got it all: incredible architecture, culture, history, restaurants and so many attributes that make it easy to combine business and leisure.
From a geographical and practical perspective, London is easy to reach for a global audience. It has the most direct flights, there are over +200 languages spoken and of course the fact that English is the mother tongue makes it so easy for U.S. visitors.
When you consider the limitations of travel within the extra restrictions of Covid, the fact that the UK have now created the more straightforward system of just Red or Green can only add to the appeal.
There’s something distinct and special about the capacity of London to keep pushing forward and producing amazing things in any situation. It never stops evolving which I think is so important and why it attracts so much interest and investment from companies around the world who want to make London their European headquarters.
Look at Tobacco Dock, lockdown came and you didn’t just board up the shop, you kept pushing forward. You’ve got your new Skylight in Peckham, you expanded your offering and your tech infrastructure. It’s an embodiment of the London spirit – that ingenuity and drive to be at the forefront of everything we do.
JR: We certainly can’t wait to welcome our stateside friends back. Hybrid has bridged a gap in events, but we definitely feel there’s a distinct appetite to get back to live.
JN: We’re still working out the answer of what a hybrid actually means. It’s just not possible to replicate the feeling of live. I think we’ll continue to see a need for hybrid in the short term for reasons of inclusivity. There are still many people who are unable to travel for a variety of reasons. There are issues with hybrid from an event delivery perspective – the challenge is that essentially you’re organising two separate events which isn’t something most organisations have the time to do.
There will be organisations who will say ‘it’s live or nothing’, but, largely, I believe most events will retain a hybrid component to include those who can’t make it to the live event in London for whatever reason.
JR: Through our conversations with event agencies, we’d say there’s a real conundrum. It’s difficult to build an event for two totally different audiences who will consume the content in very different ways. There are so many reasons why you might still want to give attendees virtual access to an event – budget, safety etc. Even before Covid, over 90% of our events would have hybrid elements: live-streamed keynotes, content that was shared post event etc. The thing that isn’t quite working is adding the interaction and engagement. It’s too clunky at the moment.
JN: Put simply, live is energising – virtual can be draining. We’re all so fatigued of engaging online at this point. Having just hosted my own event in London and joining others, it reminded me how there’s really nothing like live.
JR: There are a few industry sectors who put out strong messaging that they won’t be doing any events in 2021. Are people still holding back from commitment? We’re seeing a surge in very short lead time bookings and wondered if that was replicated over with you as well.
JN: The Delta variant hit us a lot harder than in the UK and it really threw us for a loop. Unfortunately, that set companies into a tailspin in terms of planning for Q3 and Q4. Happily, we’re on the other side of the spike now and there is a pent-up demand: once we see the flood gates open we’re going to see a massive hunger for live.
International incentives are already going ahead to places like the Caribbean and I don’t think it’s going to be long before they venture further to Europe once more. For people who spent a lot of their time travelling before Covid hit, it’s something they are missing and keen to get back to. Companies realise that those sales meetings, those user groups are so important.
When it comes to next year, I think we’re going to be looking at a domino effect. It’s going to just take one company to really go for it on live events and the rest are going to want to follow suit as they aren’t going to want to be left behind. FOMO beats caution! Next year is going to be a perfect storm of events who have been holding space finally deciding to go for it battling with new events and a massive pent-up demand for getting back to live.
The current short lead time trend is not sustainable in the long term. It was great when everything was up in the air, but I think come the new year, we’ll get back to something more resembling normal lead times. I’m sure Tobacco Dock is already seeing so much compression in the bookings you’re getting and re-bookings bunching up in the calendar. It’s quickly getting to a stage where those companies that are still holding off committing are going to find it difficult to get a space if they leave it too long.
JR: What have you noticed in terms of enquiries you’re getting through the CVB side of things? For example, how is it comparing with two years ago?
JN: I don’t think we’ll be able to make any comparisons with 2019 until at least late next year. But that’s not to say that things aren’t getting busy. We’re building the pipeline. In fact, London’s already getting pretty full for 2022. There are holes that we can begin to fill, but I’m loving the fact that I’m seeing so many enquiries for January ’23 onwards. I’m looking forward to making sure that 2023 is THE year!
The whole industry has seen a massive re-set in terms of the traditional calendar and I think it’s a great opportunity to see people consider shoulder seasons and come to London at times of the year they might not have previously thought of doing. London is amazing year-round and in the past it’s been hard to cram everything into an intense four-month window. I’m keen to see events take this chance to spread out, which I think is going to make sustainable sense in the long term.
Our plans are what they’ve always been. To promote London as the world’s greatest city and keep shouting about why it’s so great.