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2018’s biggest event trends

by Nicola Macdonald

Event profs from around the industry look at some of the biggest event trends they’ve seen in 2018.

Richard Mann, market development director at the NEC

Consolidation of the marketplace is a trend I’ve noticed at the NEC in 2018. It’s been predicted for a while, but really seemed to pick up pace this year. There’s always M&A activity of course, but this year feels not just busier but broader in terms of the organisers involved. Prysm Group followed up their 2016 capture of Naidex by buying RWM in January this year, then Angus Montgomery bought into FIT Events, ReedPop bought Gamer Network, and ITE bought the rest of Ascential Events in May.  Then there was the big one between Informa and UBM in the summer, in October Terrapinn bought Solar & Storage Live, and most recently Nineteen Group have bought Western Business Exhibitions. What this consolidation means for our business and the wider industry could fill a few more pages of EN!

Lorraine Thorne, venue sales manager at Royal Horticultural Halls

We’ve hosted three Hackathons this year, with another two pencilled in for next year. These events are where software developers are brought to an event to collaborate extensively on one subject and it looks like a growing trend. So far, we’ve had a couple of banks and a gaming brand. The Lindley Hall works well for these as it’s very private, so the content and nature of the event can remain secure from the outside world. All have executed very different set up styles running over several days. Food is getting bigger! Less tiny weeny but more substantial canapés to keep guests at events for longer.  Dessert stations are still big news, giving guests more control over what they eat, whether it’s healthy or naughty and the chance to socialise and network during the third course.

Exhibition wise we have had very differing themes this year from the luxury bridal market to the brand-new Beauty Show, celebrating women of colour. It’s coming back next year too as it was such a success. The show is about embracing who you are rather than changing who you are.


Jenny Freestone, head of corporate events at Somerset House

Looking back on 2018, we have noticed an increase in our diverse clientele enquiring about hosting events in the more unusual and quirky venue spaces at Somerset House. This includes our atmospheric Lightwells and Deadhouse, which has been a popular choice for filming and photoshoots this year and the rustic River and Lancaster Rooms, which have hosted creative fashion shows and press days.

Bryony Mitchison, event sales manager at The Science Museum Group

Last year we saw a significant increase in demand for blank canvas spaces for experiential events and brand experiences. Brands still want iconic venues that help to tell their brand story, but they also want spaces they can completely transform with production and theming to create immersive event experiences. This is something we expected to increase moving forward, and 2018 is proving this to be the case.

Ellie Nicholl, deputy event centre manager at Kent Event Centre

In 2018 we saw an increased interest from organisers looking to hold mini food and drink festivals at the Kent Event Centre. We hosted a variety of specialised festivals in 2018 which included the Prosecco Festival, the Rum Festival Kent and Cheese Fest UK. These festivals are more popular than ever before as people are now more aware of the origins of their food and drink. We expect to see this trend continue into 2019 and have already confirmed more of these types of events for next year.

Another trend we saw in 2018 was a large increase in special dietary requirements. We saw a lot more of our clients requesting vegan and pescatarian options as well as more delegates suffering from severe nut allergies than usual.

Jason Stead, UK managing director at GES

This year we’ve seen a big uplift in organisers capturing and analysing visitor/exhibitor data in order to make their exhibitions more relevant to both buyers and suppliers. There’s also been a ‘less Is more’ approach, with a greater focus on ease of business and customer service. From a supplier perspective, there’s been more engagement from organisers approaching us a source of consultancy and new ideas which we always welcome.

Caterina Alves, venue manager at RIBA

Companies are starting to make the most of the unique venues on offer in London rather than opting for blank canvas set-ups. We’ve seen so many of our corporate bookers go above and beyond in 2018, embracing our historic, Art Deco surroundings to create an outstanding experience for meeting, conference and awards delegates. Paying close attention to the finer, creative details can really make a difference to business events as well as weddings and private functions.

Sherrif Karamat, CEO of PCMA

There are so many factors that constantly generate concern and change in the business events industry. As the world’s largest network of business events strategists, PCMA advises our members to always consider the impact of consolidation, budgets, safety and security, and food and beverage. Now, however, business events strategists must factor in other environmental concerns, such as global trade policies, regulations and referendums. We see the impact of GDPR and Brexit, for just a couple of examples. These are not typically issues the business events industry has needed to consider. But as the sector continues to expand internationally, so does the portfolio of concerns for business events organisers

Ed Vickery, head of exhibition at drp

Technology has been pivotal in transforming attendee experience at exhibitions. We have seen a huge spike in demand for our digital service here at drp creating many bespoke VR and AR solutions for our exhibition clientele. The usage is not only for exhibitions but flows throughout their entire business’s for multiple uses.

Rosie Nicholas, events manager at Battersea Arts Centre

2018 saw clients really value alternative venues over the more traditional purpose-built spaces for corporate meetings and events. Businesses are increasingly recognising how more creative arenas can help encourage innovation and really get delegates thinking outside-the-box.

Emma Gaymer, sales and marketing manager at RSA House

We have had a lot of conversations with clients this this year at RSA House around wellbeing and how this can be incorporated into their events. We’ve seen more and more delegates choosing healthy breakfasts, and lighter but more lasting lunches with wholegrains, oily fish and plenty of nuts and seeds, to keep them sustained and alert for the whole day. Most notably, this year we’ve had several events where 50% of the catering has featured vegan dishes. Off the back of this we now have a much greater offering for vegans which is proving popular for events at RSA House.

Emma Howe, sales and events director at Street Feast

This year we have seen our clients opting for more unique spaces over traditional event venues, as clients are increasingly wanting to give their guests an experience and for their event to tell a story. With the introduction of GDPR this year we have also seen an increase in social media worthy events for clients to market their business through digital media channels. And we have seen vegan food totally take off this year.

Heledd Williams, head of business events at VisitWales

2018 has been a successful year for Wales, with the launch of a five-point plan to help accelerate its growing share of the global business events market. This year, Wales has been making its presence known by attending key industry events such as IBTM World and PCMA European Influences Summit, to name a few. Not only is the new International Convention Centre Wales (ICC Wales) on budget and on track to open next year, Wales held its first ever The Business Events Wales, bringing together leading stakeholders and influencers from across the Welsh and international business events sector for the first time. From this we have understood that clients are looking for quality venues with a difference, with a unique range of activities and experiences on offer for their delegates.

Mark Cooper, CEO of IACC

In 2018, we launched our third annual IACC Meeting Room of the Future™ report which highlighted that a greater number of meeting planners stating that their role involved more ‘experience creation’ than in previous years; a trend primarily driven by the need to appeal to younger generations as they make their impact on the industry. In the same study, venue operators agreed that meeting spaces have transformed in terms of design over the last three to five years, flexibility of meeting spaces is a must and last-minute requests for meeting space layout changes are now becoming the norm. The report also points to an increase in demand for smaller meeting spaces for 90 delegates or less, and the growing importance of multi-functionality, both in the use of space and furniture.

Clare Davies, sales and development manager at IET Venues

Having hosted more events in 2018 than ever before, one thing we have particularly noticed with enquiries this year has been the increased requests for ‘flexitarian’ menu dishes. Last year we introduced our ‘root to shoot’ menu which has a dedicated selection of vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options, and addresses our effort to reduce food waste by using all parts of the vegetable. The menu was also a move away from traditional delegate dining, from sandwiches and crisps to a more healthy style lunch, and we’ve seen up-take increase by 37% YOY. The requirement for more vegan, free-from or dairy-free alternatives represents the cultural and social shift across the population.

Next year we will be introducing a new menu focusing on fermented foods, like kimchi and kombucha, which contain probiotics and are great for good gut health. Venues like ours, where the capacity and capabilities allow for large, visually stimulating and engaging events, means we have a duty to ensure our delegates get the most from their conference or exhibition, and food for the brain is vital for the concentration and wellbeing of delegates. Food plays a large part in events, and introducing more super foods and being accommodating of diets has benefited guests, and most importantly, continues to satiate and satisfy visitors to the IET.

Dorothy Rugira, Canary Wharfs’ East Wintergarden

Despite the economic uncertainty throughout 2018, surprisingly we’ve seen event budgets increase with clients choosing to allocate increased spend predominantly on interactive catering. East Wintergarden has seen an increase in the number of exclusive use bookings, with clients often utilising the venue for two and three-day events. The demand for a quick turnaround remains, with our in-house team delivering world-class experiences on much shorter lead times. As such a tight-knit team, our passion and expertise are a draw for our previous clients, as such this year we welcomed a higher number of repeat bookings from clients returning from previous years.

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