Peter Heath, founder, Venue Performance, considers the event industry’s difficult second album
“Last year, we were on a roller coaster, where everything was going up and up, and everybody was very excited, but now, when we have a chance for reflection, a chance to look at the detail, you can see that big chunks of the meetings and events market are missing, which means there is a long, long way to go.
“One of the most fundamental market indicators is pricing. However, last year there were events booked in before the cost of living crisis and before the growth in inflation, so it was less a matter of pricing and more a point of being happy to have the money.
“At the same time, operating costs were being cut, which impacted service and customer satisfaction levels. As a result, there is significant evidence that some customer satisfaction was dipping. Customer satisfaction and recruitment problems are a massive deal in an industry when we're talking about service. Getting the right staff, having the time to give them the proper training, and delivering the correct levels of service for an event are enormous. It takes time and money, and a long-term plan.
“I think when you look back at 2022, it wasn’t all as good as we all thought it was because of price and the impact that had on many companies.
“This year has started strongly: the general trend is up, and everybody is “busy”. The industry is definitely back, although what isn’t back - yet - and which is very much missed (financially) - is Christmas.
Why didn't it come back? Will it ever come back to its previous levels? I don't know if it will, in the way that it used to be, because what used to happen was that during the year, you had your meetings and conferences and your away days and your team building and then come Christmas time, the cork pops out, and everybody goes absolutely mental.
“And that doesn't play so well these days. Not everybody wants to go to a mass event - not everybody could go with the rail strikes, WFH etc. And actually, youngsters are not that interested in going into a box and getting utterly hammered. It's just not in their DNA any more. And that, combined with the growth of well-being for staff, means that what we are seeing is an extension of other events, with fun tacked on. So it will be a reset for the industry, adding to how we attract and retain staff.
“So this year will be like the difficult second album after 2022. Can we go again, better? Or is it going to be not quite as good? There are going to be a lot of challenges for 2023 in terms of profitability. Net revenue per square metre RevMet™ is going to be crucial as opposed to the recent drive to get cash, any cash.
“Can the industry make the changes it needs to do that difficult second album? I strongly suspect that it can. And I strongly suspect that it will. But there will be members of the band that can't hack it and get thrown out, there will be venues that don't get it together, who are trying to do things the old way.”