How the EICC is adjusting to the ‘new normal’ - comment

Scotland’s conference and events industry contributes hundreds of millions of pounds to the economy every year, and operators and suppliers in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen and Dundee have been particularly hard hit since we went into lockdown.

We have to have a tangible plan in place so we can get the wheels turning again, says Dallas. Picture: Jane Barlow.
We have to have a tangible plan in place so we can get the wheels turning again, says Dallas. Picture: Jane Barlow.

In terms of the Edinburgh International Conference Centre (EICC) alone, we contributed more than £50 million to the local economy in 2019. Having come into 2020, which marks the EICC’s 25th anniversary, with a record book of conferences and events for the year, like many our business has been ravaged over the last couple of months by the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.

We closed our doors on 18 March in response to the spread of Covid-19 and our team has been busy since rescheduling conferences and events with clients for the second half of 2020 and first half of 2021. Encouragingly, we’re still seeing demand in the marketplace and last week secured a major event with a global food and drink brand for January 2021.

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Last week, we launched a hybrid virtual model to deliver client conferences and events entirely online or via a combination of online and in situ ahead of what we believe will be a phased return to smaller-scale business events at the venue later this year.

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As we look at how the international events industry is managing the health crisis, we see encouraging signs of a recovery in countries like Germany and China. There, a return to operational activity gives other international conference centres like our own a sign that things are starting to move in the right direction.

Following extensive and ongoing dialogue with our client base, including more than 100 UK and international associations and corporate companies, what we discovered is that there is still strong demand for conferences and events taking place at the venue whenever that is going to be possible.

We know that conferences and business events will be different in the months ahead, characterised by smaller-scale events in the first phase of the recovery, and the health and wellbeing of our people and our delegates will always remain paramount.

We also know that the business events sector, which is valued at around £35 billion across the UK, will be an important driver in helping to reboot the Scottish economy.

Along these lines, our team has been actively engaged with other industry players and stakeholders across Scotland, including VisitScotland, City of Edinburgh Council and the Edinburgh Hotels Association around strategic planning, and one common theme has been around the need to differentiate business events from what are being described as “large gatherings”.

Meeting guidelines

In a controlled manner, in a sanitised conference venue environment managed by event industry professionals, we believe there is a safe way to phase conferences back in. By utilising our technicians and event designers, we are now creating event packages that meet the latest World Health Organisation safety and wellbeing guidelines while also remaining flexible as guidelines are gradually loosened.

While we realise there are a lot of intangibles still out there when it comes to the impact of Covid-19, we also know we have to have a tangible plan in place so we can get the wheels turning again as we move through the current crisis.

Hospitality and tourism is a resilient sector made up of resilient people and the more we can collaborate and have a joined-up approach, the better our chances are of coming out of the current crisis in a relatively strong position.

Our vision statement at the EICC is to “create an environment which inspires ideas that change the world” and we know this happens best when people come together in venues like our own.

It may not be an easy road back to the new reality but the combination of our fantastic team, our amazing city and a strong client base makes me hopeful for the future.

Marshall Dallas, chief executive, the EICC

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