“Mergers, acquisitions and joint ventures and partnerships will increase in 2021”

Sian Sayward, HBAA board director

HBAA board and senior management share their predictions for 2021

 Collaboration and consolidation will be key trends for the business events, accommodation and meetings industry in 2021, according to the HBAA.

HBAA governance director Sian Sayward captured this when predicting: “M&A activities, joint ventures and partnerships will increase in 2021.”

There was extensive agreement, as well as a wide range of original views, when each HBAA board member and advisor shared their predictions and trends for next year.

Strong industry-wide collaboration to raise the sector’s profile will also continue. Julie Shorrock, HBAA membership director and managing director of HTS, says: “Despite such a challenging year, our industry has demonstrated how well we collaborate to make us stronger and collectively louder to have our voices heard. We are now better recognised and respected by Parliament, Government and at local council level allowing us to gain the financial support we need to rebuild our businesses and our industry, and this will only develop further in 2021.”

Market and business recovery, the rise of virtual and hybrid events, and the importance of mental health and sustainability were amongst other topics that the HBAA leadership have highlighted in their views.

Market recovery

The HBAA team expect recovery will begin in Q2/Q3/Q4 next year. Sayward explains: “In-person large-scale business events will return, but not to full scale until the end of 2021, and even 2022. Smaller meetings and smaller/hybrid events will replace the large-scale offerings for 2021.”

The end of the Government’s furlough scheme in March will impact market recovery, according to Des McLaughlin, HBAA strategy director and managing director of Meet Events: “Agencies that haven’t reduced their costs and/or failed to secure new areas of revenue will struggle. Travel management companies could find business particularly challenging as clients will be looking for innovative meeting solutions rather than a transactional service.”

There will be “strong demand for employee engagement events, which by their very nature will need to be in person,” predicts David Taylor, HBAA advisor and non-executive director of BCD Meetings & Events. “Regional countryside and sporting venues will be the main beneficiaries of this resurgence as their location and facilities will support the new best practices.” However, “residential training will be hit hard. Many courses will now be lost to virtual.”

Leigh Cowlishaw, HBAA consultant executive director, says: “Customer confidence in booking, staying, travelling and attending is affected, with many organisations not actually allowing these activities to take place, or tiers making these decisions for us. Therefore assurances, recognised benchmarks and the ability to showcase revised protocols and standards is absolutely key to kick start recovery.

“As an industry we have adapted our ways or working and implemented measurements to ensure that the customer journey touch points have been considered and are as safe as they can be. We need to continue to shout about this and pre-empting concerns individuals or companies may have. As an industry we have been tracking and tracing for years through delegate, guest and traveller management.”

Positive outlook for business travel and accommodation

 On business travel, there will be “steady growth” forecasts Shorrock: “Domestic business travel will recover more quickly than international. Rail will see a faster recovery than air travel.”

For hotel and accommodation providers, recovery will be gradual. Callum McLean, HBAA membership directory and director of business partnerships, Capita Travel and Events adds: “Transient accommodation numbers will see a quicker return, although we will be nowhere near 2019 numbers in 2021.”

 Hybrid and virtual events will increase

“2021 will be the year of hybrid, bridging the gap between the virtual world and back to live events,” says Angie Mason, HBAA treasurer and chairman of Absolute Corporate Events.

Safety concerns will continue to contribute to the rise of virtual and hybrid events, believes Beckie Towle, HBAA marketing director and founder of The Events Raccoon who adds. “We will see a commitment from clients to run the events they may have held off in 2020 but I think virtual and hybrid will be the way in which they feel safe to do this.”

Many corporate meetings programmes will be re-tendered early next year to include virtual as a key component, says Taylor. “Engagement with the booking communities on how and when to use virtual and cost avoidance will all be important KPIs.”

Sustainability opportunities

Sustainability will reappear on business agendas fairly quickly and ‘Planet, People and Profit’ will all be talking points to act upon. Juliet Price, executive director of the HBAA, explains: “There will be opportunities for organisations to implement sustainability policies and, with that, there will be increased demand for agencies, venues and suppliers to demonstrate best practice in this area.”

Mental health and wellbeing

 People will be high on the agenda, following the stress and mental health issues experienced in 2020. Shorrock says: “With continued isolated working conditions, mental health awareness will play a pivotal role in the wellbeing of us all.”

Cowlishaw adds: “Our people continue to be our biggest assets, and no one will be unscathed by 2020, in some shape or another. Whilst the taboo subject of Mental Health was starting to be overturned; 2020 will have lasting effects on us with productivity being impacted. This subject must now be elevated to the forefront, within all businesses to aid recoveries.”

 Progress must not be lost

Despite a tough year, there have been many positive changes with many businesses expanding their skill sets and working smarter and more collaboratively. The industry should continue to move forward and not go back to exactly the way it was before – it must bounce back better. Taylor typified the group’s views when saying: “I hope the ‘positive’ changes that many found as a consequence of the pandemic are not lost in the clamour to rebuild our industry.”

Technology will continue to accelerate change throughout every industry in the coming years and Sayward has an interesting take on how it will influence the future of the events industry. She explains: “Automation will continue to influence the industry, whether that be as simple as an electronic contract or as advanced as a robot butler – this trend is here to stay.”

Cowlishaw concluded: “We also have to continue to fight for the identity within each of our sectors; whilst progress has been made to get our voice heard; unquestionably we have further ground to cover. HBAA continue to be committed to our members and the wider industry to champion, lead and collaborate to strive forward and ensure we remain #futurefit.”