AEV project manager Alden Arnold says it’s an exciting time of change and growth for UK venues.
What does a venue need to do to be ready for the future? It’s a tough question that we addressed at our recent AEV Conference, and as you might expect, it depends almost as much on the nature of the venue as it does on the future itself.
The future is, of course, far from clear, and there is still a great deal of uncertainty around the economy and Brexit, and what business conditions will be like a year or two down the line. One thing is clear, however: the imagination and fresh thinking coming out of the UK event industry is driving an evolution in venues, as the quest for variety, engagement and experiential success widens amongst organisers and suppliers.
Improvements and advances in technology, engineering and construction are opening up new vistas of the imagination for event creators, and digital technology in particular is being used to increase efficiency with data-driven smart processes.
As a result, venues are investing to accommodate a future where organisers will want to incorporate elements of an exhibition, conference, team-building activity, and live entertainment into the same event. They are expanding their capacity, broadening their offering and working towards unprecedented digital integration.
Tottenham Hotspur, it was revealed at our AEV conference this year, has embarked on a project to create a completely digital venue, integrating everything from the wifi and digital signage, to cashless payment systems – using every technological tool available to make the visitor experience as immersive and frictionless as possible.
Other venues, like MK Arena and the NEC, have invested in evolving their venues into multifaceted destinations that are able to blend conference, exhibitions and live events, offering visitors accommodation, restaurants, attractions and shopping in addition to their event experience.
These purpose-built conference and exhibition centres still represent the bulk of venue capacity in the UK, but organisers are turning to small venues and even non-venues in greater numbers than ever. Event organisers are always searching for unusual, exclusive and eye-catching venues and the definition of ‘venue’ has evolved; museums, racecourses, zoos, universities, castles, theatres and even distilleries are realising that they have a space that can be turned to many uses.
The mantra that “anywhere can be a venue” has been taken to heart, especially by corporate events and boutique exhibitions. Now that it is possible to deploy fully mobile event infrastructure, from toilets to lecture theatres, racetracks to exhibition halls, even the most unlikely locations can evolve into outstanding event venues.
The activity I’ve seen around the UK also includes the massive expansion of existing facilities, renovations, refurbishments and even renewable energy programmes to take events off the grid entirely.
You only need to look at the progress of the ICC Wales build, the NEC’s 2018 ‘digitalisation’ and major development programme, The Scottish Event Campus (SEC) application for planning permission to add a new conference facility and extend existing exhibition space, the creation of The Event Complex Aberdeen, the expansion of the Eikon Exhibition Centre and Farnborough’s new exhibition and conference halls, to see what I mean. Venues large and small are changing, diversifying, and adapting.
This future belongs to the venues that plan for it, whether it’s exploring next-gen tech, paving the way for future talent or collaborating on security foresights. I have been AEV project manager for eight months now and from the various working groups, ad hoc venue meetings and conversations, it is clear that our members are keeping a sharp eye on the horizon.
It’s reassuring that, despite lacklustre growth predictions for the economy as a whole over the next few years, the venue sector is investing in finding new venues, building new capacity, and providing the widest possible canvas for the imaginations of event organisers.
The feedback from our conference, which focused on the future of venues and events, was clear – the rate of change in the industry is not constant, it is accelerating, and it is a journey our members are taking together.