2022 will be a year of rebuilding and recovery for the business events, accommodation, and meetings industry, according to the HBAA, soon to be known as beam.
Simon Richards, HBAA Treasurer and Managing Director of Convenus, predicts: “2022 will be a period of rebuilding and recovery. We must learn from our experiences and take the positives forward to develop and enhance our industry, which is where beam comes in to be a catalyst for the future.”
There was extensive agreement, as well as a wide range of thought-provoking views, from HBAA board members when asked for their future predictions and trends.
In-person and virtual lead the way
In 2022, in-person and virtual events will continue to be the most popular formats.
For hybrid events, the jury is still out for many, including Sian Sayward, HBAA Governance Director and Director of Commercial Partnerships & Projects of Inntel. She foresees “global organisations and associations continuing to use a hybrid model. Yet, this option hasn’t been embraced as much as many thought it would. It’s not surprising when you factor in the cost of live and virtual for the same event.”
The trend for short lead times will continue into 2022, says Des Mclaughlin, HBAA board director and Managing Director of meet events. “While enquiries and confirmations have been on the rise, events have been smaller in size with very short lead-in times, generating a lower spend. This is likely to continue for the first six months of 2022.”
However, for some clients that are going live, “bigger is better and there is a real recognition to celebrate their survival over the last 18 months,” says Beckie Towle, HBAA Marketing Director and Founder of The Events Raccoon. HBAA board advisor David Taylor expects “a move to more local and regional experiential-led events” too.
It is likely there will be “a change in the mix of business booked, with a greater use of town centre locations with parking,” according to Callum McLean, HBAA Membership Director and Director of Business Partnerships at Agiito.
Rising costs and expectations
Next year venues will continue to suffer from staff shortages, rising energy bills and supply chain issues as a combined result of the pandemic and Brexit. “Hotels and venues will therefore have little choice but to increase rates in 2022 to cover their increasing costs,” Mclaughlin points out.
Issues with global supply chains will “not end anytime soon, most likely well into 2023 for some industries,” says Sayward. As a result, “the industry will not only need to adjust expectations around costs next year, but also service levels,” states McLean. “There needs to be increased customer expectation management in terms of the issues around staffing and resources – the service levels the customer experienced pre-Covid may not necessarily be what they experience now.”
Demand for expertise
There will be opportunities ahead, however. “As international travel opens up, agencies will find their services in demand from customers who want overseas events but need expert advice and support on navigating local legislation in the wake of the pandemic to ensure traveller and delegate safety,” highlights Juliet Price, HBAA’s consultant executive director.
Sustainability will remain a high priority in 2022. Louisa Watson, HBAA Advisor and Director of Marketing at Wyboston Lakes Resort, says: “Following the discussions at COP26, venues and agencies should, and we expect will, be paying greater attention to the need to implement sustainability action plans, to reduce carbon emissions and achieve whatever goals they have set or pledges they have made. The time for paying lip service to targets has gone.”
This shift towards greener meetings and practices provides a major opportunity for venues and agents to work proactively with clients to support them in achieving their sustainability goals.
However, many industry professionals may be questioning “whether 2030 is a realistic timeline for business travel and meetings and events to be net-zero given the challenge and required resource needed to measure all of the current variables,” adds Sayward. “However, beam is committed to supporting its members and the wider industry to support sustainability initiatives and commitments.”
Collaboration is king
“Industry collaboration has been epic during the last 20 months.” Towle enthuses. “There’s been a real sense of unity born from these sad times. This mustn’t be forgotten.”
“Through beam we hope to continue our culture of collaboration, which will result in a stronger identity, louder voice, and greater visibility for our sector,” adds Price.
As consumer confidence hasn’t fully returned yet, what the next 12 months will look like is very uncertain. For many, including Julie Shorrock, HBAA membership director and Managing Director of HTS, there has been a “substantial increase in face-to-face meetings, with clients keen to get back to face-to-face client and employee engagement. However, some caution remains with large events, and gathering significant numbers of employees together is still being delayed.”
Also, in the wake of Omicron, there is a “significant amount of nervousness amongst customers and travellers” says McLean. “That nervousness is seen in the number of cancellations in the last few weeks and demonstrates how fragile the recovery potential is. We are now forecasting an even slower recovery for 2022 with Q1 being a real test bed for the rest of the year.”
For Taylor, Q2 is the one to watch. He says: “After Easter, we hope to see real momentum for B2B events again. In the UK there will be a lot of pent-up demand for employee engagement-led events, which will all be underpinned by sustainability initiatives and activities.
“Internationally, while we may not see large B2B symposiums returning quickly, we are seeing the likes of professional services and consulting forging ahead with their event programmes. This is always a good sign as over the last 30 years many traditionally follow this sector after an economic slump.”
Hopes and wishes for 2022
When asked for their hopes and wishes for 2022, the answer was unanimous among the board. Mclaughlin said: “Like everyone. I’m wishing for an end to Covid. Few industries have suffered more than ours over the last 20 months and it would be gratifying if 2022 meant the end of lockdowns, restricted travel and business uncertainty. I am hopeful that by Easter 2022, the worst effects of Covid will be behind us and our industry will return to some kind of normality, although until international travel fully recovers, events will continue to be impacted.”
What the industry needs more than anything in the year ahead is clear direction and communication, consistency, and certainty from the UK government. Richards sums up: “Clients need to have confidence when booking and this can only come from a cohesive government policy and leadership.”