Photo: London Convention Bureau

Interview Tracy Halliwell

“We are all in this together!”

Tracy Halliwell, Director of Conventions & Major events at London Convention Bureau, about coming events in London, a festival with no masks or social distancing, the success of British vaccination programmes, and the importance of collaboration tw tagungswirtschaft: Tracy, the Coronavirus pandemic is still going strong worldwide, but the situation is a little different in England and the UK. Can you give us some insight? Tracy Halliwell: We are cautiously optimistic over here for the events industry because the government published a roadmap a few weeks ago. And once we had this roadmap of the opening scheduling with clear and specific dates of what we can do and when we can do it, that really gave the industry a huge sense of confidence that they could plan ahead. On May 17th, hospitality businesses such as hotels and venues are opening for certain smaller meetings to happen. And June 21st is when planned larger reopening is taking place. We’ve had a huge influx of inquiries from people who wanted to start planning events for the backend of this year and in the future. The vaccination rollout has been so successful over here. It was done very efficiently, very quickly and that has also given people more confidence to do things. People are vaccinated, the R-rate has reduced significantly and all of this together has given us a sense of feeling that we are over the hump.

How is the British meetings and events industry preparing itself for the end of the lockdown? Many venues and hotels have been planning very quietly behind the scenes on what they are going to do when they reopen. There was a lot of work on renovations, a lot of investment in technology around omnichannel and hybrid events. Our industry is now ready for whatever is going to come. Can you give us a few examples of first events taking place in London? Well, most significantly as a first event after June 21st is the International Confex, our MICE industry related show on June 22nd, just one day later. We have all fingers crossed that this will go ahead! There are couple of consumer exhibitions going on in July, but the biggest conference to come is European Aids in October. That’s going to be a hybrid event. We are anticipating about 600-700 guests in person and the other 2,000 in virtual attendance. And then we have some exciting sports events coming up such as the EURO and Wimbledon. And we are planning for London Tech Week in September. Last year’s edition was fully virtual, but we are hoping to have at least one hybrid edition this year. Hybrid is probably the most obvious way to meet in the near future, right? We as an industry have been doing our homework in the last months. We are very confident in organising safe events, we know what to do and we are very good at running events – we have actually learned from the German market since you were ahead of us last summer in running events during a pandemic … There is a set of guidelines of how you can successfully run events that we relate to now and we all have this spirit to start and say, “come on, let’s do this”. And there is certainly a pent-up demand in the UK of people who want to meet and of delegates who want to attend events. You mentioned guidelines for events. Are they available already? We have some pilot events taking place in April and May that are going to give us deep insight into what is happening at events. We have a festival, a conference, an exhibition, indoor and outdoor sporting events, and we are collecting as much data as possible on visitor behaviour, travel, testing and so on. This data from real life case studies will be added to our existing guidelines. We don’t have a specific date on when this data will be available, but once we can share something new, we will share that data. We are all in this together and we can only get out of this situation together! We need a global recovery as an industry.

What are the most important safety measures at upcoming events to ensure safe realisation? All delegates have to undergo pre-event rapid flow COVID-19 testing and they have to pre-register with their personal data. What might be very interesting here is a festival taking place on May 2nd. This is because once the people are tested and registered at this event, they don’t have to wear masks and they don’t have to keep their distance. So, this will give us some new insight. The safety measures at indoor events are the familiar ones such as social distancing, wearing masks, the traffic flows, air conditioning, and so on. The same as in Germany. In Germany possible easing of restrictions is inseparably linked with a so-called incidence rate and the reproduction rate (R-rate) of infections. Is this incidence also the ultimate criterion in Great Britain? We look into the R-rate as well, but we also consider other factors: what is the number of people who need hospitalizing, how fast is the vaccination process working or what age groups have got a vaccination. All in all, in the UK you are a few steps ahead of other European countries. What learnings would you like to share with your industry colleagues? One of the most important things I would like to share is the importance of collaboration between the public and the private sector. Right from day one of the crisis, we’ve had meetings of emergency response groups where members of the travel and events industry were meeting with delegates of the government on a regular monthly basis. We as an industry have been involved in all governmental decisions that are affecting our business. That was a key factor for us to be able to deal with all restrictions and all loosening during the crisis. Christian Funk

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