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Last word: Michael Hirst

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Michael Hirst, chair of the Events Industry Board, outlines the role of the events industry in the coming months.

First it was blue, celebrating the heroism of the NHS. Then it was red, as event production teams lit up buildings to highlight the desperate plight of businesses and freelancers having their livelihoods shut down.

Next, it is green as the Industry gets the go ahead to reopen from 1 October, subject to the outcomes of pilots and infection levels remaining under control.

But what will colour the speed of recovery and ongoing health of the events industry will be the measures and approach taken during what could be a prolonged period of building back business and public confidence. The Events Industry Board has been consulting on proposals to ensure the UK retains and enhances its competitiveness as the recovery gathers pace.

Part of this must be immediate support to sustain businesses and people who work in the industry. If the cultural sector can receive a £1.57bn package, surely the £70bn events industry, which delivers so much tangible benefit to the economy, can claim a comparable package.

Despite many of the existing support programmes ending this autumn, there is growing pressure for more targeted help to those industries which will still be challenged to trade viably for some time yet.

Part of any package should help the inevitable pivoting of many event companies and their freelance communities to new opportunities. The industry’s enviable skillsets can stimulate innovation, create new products and alternative services that undoubtedly will emerge.

A recovery plan needs to focus on business and customer incentives, encouraging organisers, exhibitors, delegates and audiences back to using live events to stimulate trade, expand business and intellectual capital and create vibrant community experiences.

The lack of focus on the industry during the crisis has shown that it lacks the power, punch and perception that it deserves. Many argue that while events drive the visitor economy, provide a platform for trade, communication and knowledge exchange and present unique experiences, no joined up mechanism exists within Government to take advantage of the power of events to deliver.

The industry is determined to ensure that it no longer falls through the cracks. The current campaign ‘We Make Events’ is only the start of building a ‘One Industry, One Voice’ message, which will emphasise the power of events to inspire, educate, celebrate, support society and grow the economy.

From a Government perspective too, this is being seen as a necessary task. The Events Industry Board has already created an ‘International Business Events Action Plan’. This sets out a vision and programme of advocacy, financial support, marketing and promotional plans, improving the welcome for international visitors and enhancing capacity and connectivity. In the light of the impact of Covid-19 the priorities within this Plan are being reviewed.

Further raising the profile and value of the events industry, within the economic infrastructure of the UK requires the creation a cohesive plan around a set of robust policies. Positioning the UK as the destination of choice for international events is critical as the country seeks to enhance its global position. Bringing resources together across Government departments to do this would seem another big opportunity arising from this crisis.

As the colours marking this pandemic for events change from blue to red to green, and the clouds of Covid-19 begin to disperse, let us remember that every cloud has a silver lining and much of what the Industry has always yearned for in terms of support, recognition and greater appreciation could yet well emerge.

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