With more than 7 million visitors and 750 events per year, NEC Group is the leading UK company in live events. World-class specialists in venue and destination management, this multi-tier event company runs its business through exhibitions, conferences, music, sports, entertainment and hospitality. Owner of multiple MICE centres such as ICC Birmingham, the group was prompted to further responses with the decline in live operations and the shift to virtual events. Senior Account Manager, Sandra Eyre (pictured below), addressed the most pressing topics in the Birmingham convention bubble.
1) COVID-19 has hit the heart of our industry and convention centres are no exception. With the lack of government regulations and calls for tighter lobbying, what is your company’s position at this critical time?
The events industry has been one of the hardest hit by the effects of the pandemic. The NEC Group has three conference venues located across Birmingham: the National Exhibition Centre, ICC Birmingham and Vox Venue. All three venues have unfortunately been closed to events since March and throughout this period we have worked closely with event organisers and associations to reschedule events appropriately. As the UK’s leading live events business, we continue to determinedly lobby for government support and an industry reopening date with accompanying criteria. Alongside these efforts, the venues have been operationally prepared for a return to business, allowing us to host safe and controlled gatherings as soon as we are permitted to do so.
As difficult as this period has been, we look forward to the return of events and meeting our industry colleagues face-to-face again. There has been a great deal of investment into Birmingham and our venues over the past few years, as such the future is promising. This anticipation for the future is only further enhanced by the Commonwealth Games, which arrives in Birmingham in 2022, and has presented a set of fantastic opportunities to the region and our venues.
2) Among these three options, what will be your top priority for 2021: bring in new sponsors and a solid membership; build up a new customer base comprising the domestic market; or increase revenue at a sustained pace?
Naturally, as a near zero revenue business for most of 2020, increasing revenue is fundamental to our operations for 2021 and beyond. However, there is almost 80 years-worth of event experience across our three venues and the long-term customer relationships must be maintained now and then strengthened through 2021. This engagement and the understanding of our customer base has been a close personal focus.
Updated travel restrictions, domestically and internationally, may further determine how our customer base is formed in the coming years. As circumstances change and new working methods are adopted, there will be ample opportunities to attract customers from across the world. We are operating in partnership with West Midlands Growth Company, which also has a dedicated team working with international clients to attract future business to Birmingham.
3) What new assets is your venue ready to offer in this ‘new normal’ period of time? What can associations expect right now in terms of prevention and safety?
We understand that new working methods have become essential and we are embracing the "new normal". Our in-house Production Management has recently enhanced our hybrid services, allowing us to deliver virtual events of all kinds, including hybrid, web streaming, studio productions and webinars.
Meanwhile, we have devised ‘Venue Protect’, which is an all-encompassing toolkit based on a four-step approach to the safety and protection of people at our venue. Measures have been put in place to support testing and tracing, ensure adherence to social distancing, enhance venue sanitisation and provide appropriate communication to all audiences. The toolkit includes guidance, checklists, accreditation, risk assessments, visitor information, explainer videos and more.
4) Virtual events are not new to the market but the truth is this health crisis has increased the digital weight, offering hybrid solutions for venues. Do you see this as a threat or a unique opportunity to improve meetings and events?
This is most definitely an opportunity. Whilst there are many aspects of physical events that are irreplaceable, digital services allow events to be broadcast far and wide, providing content to the masses, reaching audiences that may never have had the opportunity to attend. We look forward to adding this hybrid component to events now and for the foreseeable future. Our event spaces offer a fantastic platform for hybrid elements, and we are well equipped with a broad range of technologies, enabling the delivery of virtual events in line with organisers requirements.
5) Associations may feel at risk of signing a contract given the volatility of the situation and their own commitment to the success of the event. How are you building trust between the venues and your clients?
There is great trust between the venue and our clients, and by understanding their requirements and desires, we will build upon this trust in our delivery as business operations return. We should soon be able to host meetings of up to 1000 attendees. As we adapt to a new normality, we will be evidencing our adaptability to changing circumstances as well as how the measures detailed in 'Venue Protect' are being implemented, helping to build conference organisers' confidence in our venue and our operational delivery.
6) For a long time, it was thought that sustainability was just a buzzword to shake the market positively. How did these sustainable policies impact the structure of NEC Group today?
Sustainability has long been at the forefront of our operations. We’re proud to invest considerably and implement a range of appropriate initiatives across the venues. In addition, the ICC holds the ISO 14001 accreditation, which officially recognises our efforts surrounding environmental management systems.
There are energy saving technologies across all our venues, managing lighting, systems and hardware. Waste management is considered under the reduce, reuse and recycle principles, and we further actively participate with the local waste to energy scheme. Sustainability efforts also extend through our business catering arm, Amadeus. Amongst many initiatives, they source produce locally, procure sustainable product packaging, appropriately dispose of all waste and have pledged to responsible plastic usage and management.
Supported by the Union of International Associations (UIA), the International Association of Professional Congress Organisers (IAPCO) and the Interel Group, the global public affairs and association management consultancy, Headquarters Magazines serve the needs of international associations organising worldwide congresses.