Event profs have welcomed the news that Plan B measures introduced in December to combat the Omicron variant in England will be abolished from this Thursday (January 26), but will the move finally boost client confidence to get back to live?
In a statement to the Commons last week, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that England was reverting to ‘Plan A’, with Covid passports for entering nightclubs and large events, work from home guidance and mandatory face coverings in public places all being dropped.
The government has also announced that all Covid testing requirements will be removed for fully vaccinated travellers to the UK from next month.
The arrival of the Omicron variant, Plan B measures and tougher travel restrictions had a significant impact on the events industry, with many agencies reporting postponements and cancellations in December and Q1.
So, will the removal of the measures result in a surge in confidence and bookings for live events? While Covid infection rates have been falling in many areas of England, numbers are still high. We asked some event agency leaders to share their thoughts.
“I am not sure that the end of Plan B restrictions will see a huge amount of change in the confidence levels as our clients are very much split into Covid Confident or Covid Cautious. The ones that are confident will continue to hold events as they have been for the past few months. The cautious ones will be looking to the next few months before reviewing their virtual versus live plans. It is the full end of all restrictions that will make a difference to them (i.e., end of self-isolation and such factors),” said Lemon Lane director Lucy Francis.
“There is and will continue to be a big difference between clients with UK based delegates, versus those with a global audience. As whilst the UK is reaching a ‘live with it’ mentality, many other countries are not, and therefore events that rely on a global audience may continue to be virtual for some time yet.”
OrangeDoor CEO Elizabeth Heron is also seeing differences across the agency’s client base depending on sector and location. “Our clients are almost all chomping at the bit to get back to in-person. We are seeing nuances from industry to industry – those targeting more sociable/hospitality-focussed sectors like the media or agency world are keener than those targeting Financial Services Risk profiles for example. We are also seeing our bigger, Enterprise clients being more reticent to open up than our more agile clients.
“Omicron seems to have pushed caution and most plans forward a quarter but anecdotally this is not so much due to a risk of exposure, but more the cost of quarantining. We are feeling an air of optimism for the UK market – but still not much movement in the rest of the world.”
Strata CEO Simon Hambley said: “The removal of Plan B restrictions, which have not helped our sector at all, are a positive step towards the return to client activity. What’s interesting now is what happens next. Our experience of the effect Omicron is having on client plans has been different than earlier in the pandemic. Even before the announcement of Plan B restrictions many brands were already planning to return to face-to-face live events and activations in 2022. Brands are planning for the end of Covid with a lot more certainty and commitment than previously.
“What Covid has shown is that nothing can replace face-to-face for depth of engagement with consumers, customers and staff. It is a unique form of communication that’s value is now better recognised than it was pre-Covid. Big brands are keen to get back to activity and steal a march on any competition slow to act. Now that we’ve also learnt how to deliver safely and combined with the added amplification offered by hybrid, we have a powerful play book to offer to clients and that can only be good for all those who’ve suffered through the past two years.”
Broadsword managing director Anna Green believes people getting back to offices will have the biggest impact on confidence. “As companies return to the office, we predict that plans for in-person events will resume. In our experience, there has been a strong link between the two all the way through the pandemic. We expect green shoots in the Spring and a lot of activity in the early Summer.”
First Event group managing director Richard Murphy added that agencies can play a big role in helping to boost client confidence. “We’re all looking forward to getting back to running unrestricted live events again and we’re already helping our clients to plan their 2022-23 calendar of events. Of course, we expect a certain amount of trepidation from companies about event planning, given the ups and downs of the last 24 months who can blame them?
“However, I think that’s the really important role of what we do as event agencies, were here to take companies/clients by the hand and reassure them that the water is fine and whatever happens were going to be there every step of the way. We’re all well-seasoned in preparing for the unpredictable now, we have plans A, B and C lined up for every event and can pivot on a knifes edge if needed.”