Inclusive event planning after COVID-19
The effects of the coronavirus pandemic are still being felt across the world. While lockdown has been eased in the UK and other countries, what we’re able to do and what we feel comfortable doing are still influenced by the risks of spreading the virus.
How we work, socialise and celebrate are amongst the activities which could continue to be affected in the longer term. As a result, the meetings and events industries are having to adapt. There’s still demand to do things, but how can events be organised safely?
How COVID-19 impacted events
When the UK Government announced we’d be going into lockdown on the 23rd March 2020, all events were cancelled or moved online. People were told to stay home unless we had essential reasons to travel for food, medication or exercise.
The 2020 Tokyo Olympics and European Football Championships were postponed, major music events including Glastonbury Festival and the Eurovision Song Contest were cancelled, huge blockbusters delayed their release dates, and the largest teaching union in Europe, the National Education Union, cancelled their annual conference.
But this was just the tip of the iceberg, with thousands of smaller business events and personal celebrations – including weddings – affected. As gatherings of people are a proven vehicle for spreading any disease, it was inevitable the events industry would be amongst those hit the hardest.
In a report compiled before the outbreak by The Business Visits & Events Partnership (BVEP), it was found that 2019 business events generated more than £31bn of direct spend, with leisure events contributing a further £39bn. The overall events industry before COVID-19 contributed £70bn to the UK economy.
While some events have been postponed rather than completely cancelled, there’s no denying the pandemic will have had a devastating effect on the industry in 2020. Looking further ahead, it needs to adapt.
What the future of events looks like
The industry cannot remain frozen. Demand is slowly growing for groups to start meeting up again as the rules loosen. However it’s likely that certain factors will influence what this looks like for some time. Let’s explore some of them:
Maintaining physical distance between individuals from different households is essential for any events going forward. This means larger venues for fewer attendees. You’ll also have to put in spacing between seats to keep this distance and consider using markers on the floor for when people may need to queue (for the toilets, for example).
Consider how people will move around too. Can you stagger entry or exit times to avoid a rush of people trying to get to the same place at the same time? Would a one-way system work? There’s a lot to consider to make sure people stay apart, but it can be built into your event planning.
Food and drink hygiene
One of the big considerations for any event is what food and drink will be available. Pre-COVID-19, self-service buffets were a popular way of providing hot drinks and lunches, especially at conferences. But this style of catering is currently considered too risky as it involves multiple people touching the same surfaces.
Instead, it’s likely both food and drink will have to be served to guests so that they can remain distanced from one another. This could have a huge effect on budgets as it’s likely to be less cost-effective.
There’s also the environmental impact to consider if you deem disposable cups to be the easiest, safest choice. There has been a lot of focus on sustainability efforts in recent years, but it’s likely the worries of spreading the virus will now take precedence.
Cleaning or hand sanitising stations have been cropping up at most public places recently. Providing more sanitisation facilities is must for any event, including additional signage to remind guests about the importance of cleaning their hands regularly.
There’s also the additional cleaning that needs to go on behind the scenes. Before and after the event, it’s essential you organise a cleaning crew to decontaminate the area thoroughly. But during an event, you’ll also be expected to organise regular cleaning and disinfection of high-traffic areas and high-contact surfaces.
Where are your attendees coming from? Local lockdowns are currently the UK’s way of dealing with localised spikes in the virus, so it’s important you have some information on visitors. If they are in lockdown, they shouldn’t be travelling to your event.
You might also consider some additional safety checks, such as thermal scanning at entrances, to help minimise the risk. Whatever measures you decide to put in place, you need to be communicating with your guests to set expectations.
We’ve all been adjusting to this new norm, but certain measures – such as thermal scanning – can feel alarming. Make sure everyone knows what to expect before they turn up. And if your event is in a location which requires guests to wear face coverings, consider giving them out for free.
You’ll also need to check whether you need to record certain information about your attendees to help the track and trace efforts within the hospitality industry.
Accessible considerations for virtual events
Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, virtual events have become a popular way of connecting audiences. From weekly quizzes with friends or catch-ups with colleagues to virtual conferences with global audiences, we’ve been able to adapt and move our interactions online.
As things have begun to return to normal, we’ve also seen a rise in hybrid events. This format is particularly popular for business conferences, where a small group can attend face-to-face to have discussions. This is then broadcast to a much bigger audience who can ask questions and get involved digitally.
Even when it’s possible to organise events in person once again, it’s likely that virtual and hybrid events will continue to be popular. One study found that 90% of event marketers plan to invest in virtual events moving forward. After all, it may just be an easier way to organise an event – but you need to make sure you’re thinking about your whole audience.
To make sure you’re organising a virtual event that’s accessible, think about the following:
- Does the platform you’re using allow computer-based audio listening/speaking and phone-based audio listening/speaking?
- Have you factored in the costs of captioning, sign language interpretation, audio description or other accommodations into your budget?
- Have you prepared your speakers? For example, it’s common for each speaker to say their name before they speak each time.
- If someone will be available to answer any questions about allergies, the ingredients of the food and its origins
- Have you checked that the presentation materials are accessible? For example, text should be high-contrast and in a large, legible font.
- Will you be offering accessibility information ahead of time? This includes sharing the format of the event and how long it will take.
- Will you be allowing your attendees to provide feedback?
Accessibility is a learning process, but the efforts you make can have a huge impact on the people who are able to attend virtual events. For more information on the accessibility features of major virtual platforms, including Zoom and Google Hangouts, check out this list from the National Endowment for the Arts.
The impact on live entertainment
It could be argued that conferences and businesses events suit the move to a virtual world. Expert speakers, well-polished slides and a quiet audience who might not even be heard. There’s a lot to be gained by moving these kinds of events online. Once the technology is in place, the format can be replicated and events can reach an even larger audience.
On the other hand, live entertainment tends to be more of a loud, creative celebration. It has more to lose if it can’t achieve the same personal, fun atmosphere of a physical event if and when it moves online.
Indeed, the live music industry has been one of the hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic:
- More than £900 million is expected to be wiped from the £1.1 billion the live music sector was expected to contribute to the domestic economy this year
- A total of £21 million of work had been lost since the beginning of the lockdown on 23rd March (this included touring and teaching work)
- 82% of grassroots music venues (more than 550) are at immediate risk of closure
- 92% of members of the Association Of Independent Festivals face collapse
Sources: euronews and Music Week
The industry faces an uncertain future. But it’s not all doom and gloom. The lockdown resulted in changes to how people consume music and entertainment. For example, Spotify noted how changes to consumers’ routines (mainly no time spent commuting) meant that listening habits were similar to weekend consumption during the lockdown. More listeners were searching for relaxing genres too.
Musicians and performers are also able to go direct to their fans from home with services like Instagram TV, providing they have the equipment needed. But to make money from live streaming platforms, artists have to get creative. For example, they could think about providing early or exclusive access, or allowing for digital ‘tips’ during live streams.
The longer the industry experiences disruption because of the pandemic, the more common these tactics will be and the more likely audiences will be to seek out music and entertainment from new channels. There have already been some huge events – Fortnite hosted a live in-game concert featuring Travis Scott and nearly 12 million people logged in to watch. But it’s arguably much easier for bigger names with access to technology and marketing.
Going forward, social distancing will cause problems – no big concerts, festivals or any performance with a large audience can take place any time soon. As the rules begin to ease, smaller musicians and performers may find themselves performing once again. But those who make use of popular digital platforms, including live performances, will have a real advantage.
However, there will always be demand for live events, entertainment and performances. And with restaurants, hotels and other venues forced into becoming quite sterile and impersonal places – with limited interaction, plastic screens and one way systems – now more than ever, they might need the atmosphere that live entertainment can deliver. We mustn’t forget the value of the emotional experiences created by music and entertainment.
Media Consultant | Digital Content