It’s no secret the business of events has been hit hard these last 16 months. Being the first sector to close and the last to reopen has naturally presented huge challenges for all the businesses within it. And whilst some were able to be dynamic and start supplying alternative markets, others with less flexible products were left with few options.
The epitome of this is event venues.
Institutions with business models based entirely on people gathering together suddenly found themselves without any incoming business as of March 2020 (even earlier for some), and it’s been a turbulent time ever since. Now as we enter into July, we’re approaching what will hopefully be the final, official green light to welcome people back through their doors – free of restrictions.
But it hasn’t been as simple as picking back up where things left off. London offers one of the broadest variety of venues of any city in the world and each one requires a unique plan for reopening in a safe and practical way. So with that in mind, how are London’s venues bouncing back post-covid?
A central, business-focused events venue:
Congress Centre is a large-scale venue in the West End specialising in business events like meetings, conferences, and exhibitions. They’re well-priced, convenient, and pre-covid would be busy most days of the work week. They’re also housed within the headquarters of the Trades Union Congress (TUC).
Ruby Chagger, conference and sales manager at the venue, shared what their experience has been: “I’ve been working in the event industry for over 20 years, and nothing compares to the experiences from the last 16 months. No one imagines their industry coming to completely halt overnight and we were suddenly hearing words like ‘economically non-viable’ about our roles. I know many people in the events industry feared for their jobs without a clear idea of when business could restart.”
“Fast forward to today, we’re still limited in what we can do with social distancing measures in place, but we’re already seeing a number of bookings come in for the final quarter of this year. The government’s roadmap has been a big driving force in restoring confidence and the general consensus seems to be that final restrictions will be lifted by September at the latest. We are receiving bookings for nearly full capacity (400-500 seats) for later in the year, so I feel event planners are looking to the future optimistically.”
“We’re hosting some smaller events the next few months letting us generate some income until we get back to normal, and are also fortunate to have a background as a filming location so have been making the most of our connections in that industry.”
“Gearing up for indoor events again has been an exciting but frustrating process; guidelines changing repeatedly and confidence being restored and lost again last autumn have been the biggest obstacles. However, whilst we’re looking forward to finally using all the protective equipment, screens and signage we bought last year, we’re definitely more excited for the final day we’ll need it!”
A popular weddings & occasions venue:
10-11 Carlton House Terrace is a Grade I listed Georgian Townhouse near Buckingham Palace with some impressively regal interiors to rival it. It’s a luxurious setting and frequently sought after for weddings and special occasions like private dinners and parties. On the business side, they also host conferences, meetings and more recently, virtual and hybrid events from a brand-new, dedicated studio.
Catherine Owens, head of venue sales & marketing at 10-11 Carlton House Terrace (pictured above) shared: “Our experience as a venue in recent months has definitely been mixed; facing plenty of challenges throughout but also finding pockets of positivity. Not every venue had opportunity to do so but we opened for some small events last summer and this is proving to have been beneficial as we officially start to re-open.”
“It gave us chance to ensure our venue safety processes had been thoroughly tried and tested, our staff were familiar with all the operations and logistics required to manage events safely, and we had a clear blueprint for a smooth reopening this time around.”
“As and when public health guidelines have allowed for it, we’ve hosted events like meetings and micro weddings, as well as more filming productions than ever before since this type of work has been able to go ahead since last autumn. We also made sure to secure the relevant accreditations to prove our commitment to good hygiene and safety practices, and all protocols will remain in place with the official government guidance.”
“In our experience, we’ve seen significant appetite for events from the very first week [commencing 17th May]. We’ve hosted four different events already and have seen a massive boost in interest including: a 170% increase in wedding enquiries, a 230% increase in wedding bookings this year from 2019/20 and a 130% increase in all enquiries year-on-year.”
“Things aren’t quite there yet – all of our business remains domestic, capacities are still small, and there are still questions around cancellation and postponements – but companies and clients are clearly keen to get back to live events. There are many playing it safe booking into the autumn when there should be more certainty, but are therefore hopeful for a return to pre-covid business levels in the coming months.”
A historic venue with sports grounds:
The HAC is a large Georgian manor house with the largest private grounds in the City of London (around 5 acres, if you were wondering). It’s well hidden from the busyness of the City and home to the Honourable Artillery Company, who provide Guards of Honour for visiting members of the Royal Family and other high ranking officials.
The venue’s Director of Events, Rowan Kitching, shared what they’ve seen from their perspective: “Since business events have recommenced, we’ve been hosting socially distanced dinners and lunches at the venue’s private members restaurant, as well as two weddings during June. That’s on top of the annual London Concours event – an automotive garden party displaying some of the world’s rarest and most precious cars – which uses our large private garden space.”
“Now as we enter Q3, we’ve seen a big jump in demand for commercial bookings, where the majority have been for outdoor summer parties and bookings to use our sports grounds. Most spikes in bookings have happened in-line with government announcements. For example, we saw bookings increase by 60% in February 2021, returning to pre-pandemic levels, following the reveal of the Government’s covid roadmap. Ever since then, they’ve remained consistent with slight fluctuations as restriction dates have changed.”
“Providing any government guidance and roadmap plans are only minimally adjusted from now on, we are really confident in a strong return for events. For us, we’ve seen our outdoor spaces almost fully booked beyond the end of June, into July and September. Meanwhile, bookings for indoor events indicate people are ready to resume normality from Autumn.”
“We do anticipate people leaving it much later to book their Christmas parties this year, but ultimately it will depend on confidence nearer the time as well as any risk of further restrictions or lockdowns being put in place this winter. But whatever happens, we’re prepared for it!”
Whilst restrictions on gatherings and events aren’t going anywhere just yet, things are starting to look promising for much of London’s event scene.
People have clearly regained their confidence in meeting face to face and the rising demand seen by these venues in the last few months reflects that. How well they bounce-back from here will be mainly dictated by any more shifts to the last roadmap date, currently set as the 19th July. Further delays would limit the business venues can hold and prevent the chance to start recovering properly.
So, like with much else from the last 15+ months, only time will tell exactly how well London’s venues bounce back post-covid!