At the recent Global Summit, hosted by Maritz Global Events, I joined Alisson Batres (Organizacion, S.A.) and Linda Wang (Destination Asia) for a panel discussion on the top issues currently creating roadblocks to global events — from the new privacy and data protection laws in Europe, (European) destinations considering new measures discouraging mass tourism (and thereby affecting the meetings and events markets), to China’s new NGO law affecting association events, and many issues of perception, rather than reality around the globe.
Below is a summary of points based on the panel, with thought to the global issues and topics of the events industry.
There are many issues around Brexit and the political landscape across Europe. “Uncertainty” is the big buzz word, but we are not sure if this is a media generated thing or a reality. The economy is holding up both in the UK and mainland Europe; however, there is more and more talk about a mini recession at the end of 2018 / beginning of 2019, which is driving the uncertainty discussions.
The pound against the dollar and euro has been a great inbound to the UK, but this has exposed huge shortages in venues, particularly in London, which has been extremely busy this year. On the flip side, clients wanting to travel to the United States and Europe have been tempered. This has meant a reduction in the creative and “nice-to-have’s” (in the case of events) to bring projects back on budget.
In the UK, if Brexit does happen, we have a fear in the industry of a return to Carnets, making it harder to freely move across the borders. As someone who remembers what a pain this was, a return would not be good.
In destinations such as Egypt and North Africa, events have decreased and fears around security is high on the agenda. We have seen a significant drop in event bookings in Turkey too; however, Dubai and Saudi Arabia remain buoyant. Clients are very conscious about security and the due diligence around choosing a venue. We have experienced some pretty poor examples where venues are still not taking delegate security and safety seriously. So, we have found ourselves having to audit, advise and insist on what venues should be doing, as this is not our sole responsibility. There have been discussions recently around the next type of terrorist act at an event, such as in set up mode, rather than the event itself, where venues can be vulnerable at this time — with so many crew, deliveries and activity — which is difficult to control during the build-up.
We have been one of the only agencies who have been working with the police anti-terrorism unit to formulate a practical crisis plan for the UK and overseas. All 200+ of our team have been through training sessions and we are now running “real” scenarios sessions also. We see this as a critical part of what we do, as clients are looking for companies they can trust and those who can demonstrate robust and tangible security, and crisis management plans. It also means that we are more likely to win the business, because we are putting these systems in place.
Connected with the above, there is a concern from clients around the ability of certain destinations being able to deal with a crisis in an effective and fast way. Whether natural disasters, such as in Mexico, or terrorism such as the Bataclan shooting in Paris — clients are much more aware than they ever were, and delegate safety has moved to the top of the agenda. There is an opportunity for event insurance to be put in place when events are cancelled, due to circumstances beyond anyone’s control.
Speed of Airport Security
We are finding that certain destinations are having knee jerk reactions to potential crisis incidents, for example; increasing the time to clear passport control and security taking longer than it has done in the past. This can only lead to delegate frustration and time pressures on the programme. Certain European destinations, such as Paris, Brussels and Madrid, have been particularly poor. We have in the past paid for customs officials to travel on the aircraft with the delegates and complete all passport controls while travelling. It’s a great solution, but not all destinations will offer this.
Europe has a shortage of large convention centres with connected accommodation. This is mainly down to the way European cities have evolved over the years. So, city centre venues tend to not be built bespoke and need to use accommodation spread across the city, which can have travel issues. There are exceptions with Berlin, Barcelona and London with ExCel, however all are out of town. If we take London as a prime example, ExCel is a fantastic facility with 4,000 beds on site and more being built, but clients object as they see it as being too far from central London. However, with the Crossrail opening next year, it will be a 10-minute transfer from the West End and 30 minutes from Heathrow, with a station direct into the centre.
Most recently, Monarch airlines has gone into administration, stranding 300,000 customers around the world, and Ryan Air has dramatically reduced their flight destinations. I think there is pressure on the airlines, and I believe prices will have to rise, or more will disappear.
At certain destinations, we still experience issues getting either experienced people, or the right kit. People are probably the biggest issue, particularly in destinations that are not as mature as what we are used to. Poor health & safety, and differences in technical and creative knowledge, mean our teams must either manage local teams, or take more expertise from the UK, which increases costs.
Next year will see a raft of new data protection laws sweeping across Europe. We have had to invest in new systems and processes to be compliant. Again, as with security, there is an opportunity for agencies to demonstrate and shout about the compliance.
In the UK, we have recently seen a wave of mergers and acquisitions including drp acquiring Penguins and Amex acquiring Bank Sadler, which was an interesting one. I think the smaller agencies are going to have a tough time in the next couple of years. The growth of regulation and need for compliance means many smaller agencies will not have the resources to meet all requirements.
Also, we are seeing a trend for extended payment terms from clients, meaning more are having to bank roll clients, which is not sustainable.