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Technology and Innovation Centre, University of Strathclyde


VisitScotland Business Events is attending the virtual edition of The Meetings Show with 9 Scottish partners and we spoke with Gordon Hodge (University of Strathclyde), Debbie Rose (EICC) and Kim Stephen (P&J Live) about why taking part in virtual events and tradeshows is important to Scotland and the business events industry.

Gordon Hodge, Head of Conferencing and Events at University of Strathclyde, Glasgow

What encouraged University of Strathclyde to invest in attending a virtual edition of a tradeshow?

We’ve attended the Meetings Show for the past two years and found it to be a great experience.  We were excited to be joining the Scotland stand for the first time in 2020.  When VisitScotland took the decision to gather partners together to exhibit at a virtual version, we still wanted to be a part of it, so that the country is represented by a range of businesses from across the country, operating in the different elements of the MICE sector.  It also seemed a straightforward way to dip our toe in the waters of a virtual trade show for the first time – it was cost-effective, and we knew we would be there alongside VisitScotland and the other partners.  This online element is going to be present for some time to come, even after face-to-face events and exhibitions return, so we want to experience it and find out how we can best use it to our advantage when we’re trying to make new connections.

Have you prepared differently for this virtual event?

Some elements have been the same – populating our online profile, considering who’s going to be on-stand when, agreeing what we’d like to focus on when we meet with buyers.  Others have disappeared completely – deciding who’s going to London, booking travel and accommodation, deciding on printed materials and giveaways, working out whether there are other activities we can fit in on the trip, and how we’re going to arrange cover back at the ranch.  In a way, the most labour-intensive elements of preparation are gone, which has made it much more straightforward.  One person will look after diary appointments each day, and we can work these around our existing commitments, rather than having to take three full days out of the office.  Of course, the flipside to this is that we don’t get the real face-to-face interaction with clients that is normally the pay-off for all the work that goes in beforehand.  Still, I think everyone understands that that’s just not practical or possible right now, and it’s certainly worth giving this a try instead.

Do you think buyers’ key criteria for venues will have shifted this year and if so, how?

I think it depends on when the buyer is looking to place business.  If it’s within the next 6-9 months, I think they will naturally focus on the safety and security of the venue; they will be looking for reassurance that the venue will work with them to keep delegates safe and well-informed.  For buyers who are looking further ahead, I think there will be more of an assumption that venues have to be ‘COVID-secure’ in line with the latest guidance, and that that detail can be picked up in due course.  These buyers are likely to be more interested in the venue’s connectivity, i.e. how easy it is for them to include online elements at hybrid events, and flexibility – it’s likely that things could change at short notice for the foreseeable future, so buyers will want to know how venues will work with them to make best use of the venue whatever happens, and to help them postpone and reschedule, if it comes to that.

Are your objectives for this year’s event different to in a typical year? If so, how?

We’re looking to present ourselves as a key element of Scotland’s MICE offer, a friendly and professional team who want to work with buyers to host great events in an environment that’s safe, comfortable and welcoming, who want to make new connections. So, in that sense, our objectives are the same as they would be in any year, it’s just that the context is radically different in 2020.  For as long as we’re unable to operate, our aim is continue to the dialogue with existing clients and reach out to new clients, in the hope that before too long, they’ll be able to bring delegates to Scotland, to Glasgow, and of course to our award-winning Technology and Innovation Centre.

In your opinion, why is securing the future of business events by attending these virtual events so important to Scotland?

We need to keep ourselves visible in the business events community.  We need people to know that businesses – whether venues, accommodation providers, bars and restaurants, visitor attractions, tour guides – are working hard to ensure that they can deliver their world-class product, whatever it may be, safely.  We need to make sure that people around the world are clear that Scotland remains a beautiful, friendly, dynamic, unique country which offers experiences delegates can’t have anywhere else – and that we are so excited to welcome them back, as soon as it’s safe to do so. 

Debbie Rose, Account Development Manager at Edinburgh International Conference Centre (EICC)

EICC Exterior by night

EICC. Image: David Barbour

EICC launched its hybrid events solution, Make It Edinburgh Live, in May. What impact has this had on event enquiries for EICC?

Launching Make it Edinburgh Live means that we’re able to offer clients an online alternative for their events, whilst there are restrictions with physically holding events.  It has also created an opportunity to communicate a positive message more widely about what is possible in terms of online and hybrid events.  We’ve found that clients and industry have responded positively to this, particularly following each online event that we deliver when we receive an influx of enquiries.

What encouraged EICC to invest in attending a virtual edition of a tradeshow?

It’s more important now than ever that we keep in regular contact with clients and industry peers.  We may not be able to hold physical events currently, but our venue is good to go with new measures already in place, so as soon as restrictions are lifted, we’re ready to welcome clients and delegates back – which is what we’re focused on communicating.  Speaking to industry peers and exchanging ideas right now is just as important as client communication.  All of us in the events sector need to support and learn from each other, so that we can return to be the vibrant and thriving industry that we’re renowned for.

Do you think buyers’ key criteria for venues will have shifted this year and if so, how?

We expect that, at least in the short term, there will be a shift in terms of the structure of events and buyers’ criteria for venues.  This is likely to be dictated by potential ongoing guidelines and restrictions around the number of delegates allowed to attend an event, as well as physical distancing measures impacting the event format.  It’s our job as event professionals to use our venues, services and technology to their full potential so that events continue to be enjoyable and enriching experiences for everyone involved – whether that involvement is in person or online. 

Are your objectives for this year’s event different to in a typical year? If so, how?

Our desire to work with our clients and partners to deliver excellent events hasn’t changed.  The big difference this year is that we can now deliver those events, in person, online or in a hybrid format.  So, at this year’s Meetings Show we’ll be speaking to clients (almost face-to-face!) about opportunities with our Make it Edinburgh Live event solutions.  Currently, we are running events for clients fully online, and once we’re able to hold events in the venue again these can be supported with an online element for delegates and speakers who might be unable to attend in person. 

In your opinion, why is securing the future of business events by attending these virtual events so important to Scotland?

When business events take place, they support the economy in and around the event destination.  But beyond this, business events are vital in supporting industries worldwide.  When delegates come together at conferences and events they connect, exchange ideas, and develop new business opportunities for their industries.  Face-to-face meetings are powerful in enabling the development of industries around the world, and we very much look forward to welcoming these meetings back to our venue.

Kim Stephen, Head of Sales – Conferences, Meetings and Banqueting at P&J Live, Aberdeen

P and J Live image optimised

P&J Live, Aberdeen

What encouraged P&J Live to invest in attending a virtual edition of a tradeshow?

The Meetings Show has always provided P&J Live with the opportunity to meet so many of our industry colleagues and contacts over the years, and whilst this year has been somewhat exceptional, it’s important for us to continue those great relationships by being present. In addition, we appreciate that our clients might be looking at how their events are evolving in light of our new norm, and exhibiting allows us to showcase the technology and expertise which can support things such as hybrid meetings.

Aside from successful business meetings, what are you hoping to take from this year’s virtual The Meetings Show?

For us, networking is key. Meeting with existing clients and understanding how Covid-19 has impacted their events and organisations overall, ensures we understand the challenges they face. During these tough times it’s important that the events industry pulls together to evolve and find new solutions.

Are your objectives for this year’s event different to in a typical year? If so, how?

Here at P&J Live we understand there are a lot of challenges for event organisers, particularly around events impacted this year, and an ever-changing landscape which may impact their next event in 2021. Ensuring clients know we are here, and ready to discuss a future year when the time is right for them is important to us. In addition, the platform allows us to ensure organisers are aware of how we are preparing to operate safely, using VenueShield, allowing for the safe return of live events.

In your opinion, why is securing the future of business events by attending these virtual events so important to Scotland?

We know organisers are still looking to secure their venues for future years, as they have long planning schedules in place, so exhibiting is still important to us. By being present virtually, we are all helping to show that Scotland remains open for business events which is key to ensuring we are still seen as a top conference destination in the future when things begin to return to normal.