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Comment | Flexibility is Key to Re-opening Scotland’s Vital Events Industry

Marshall Dallas

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EICC

Marshall Dallas, CEO of the Edinburgh International Conference Centre (EICC), discusses the venue’s new hybrid event solutions as lockdown measures continue to ease country-wide.

Having closed our doors on 18th March in response to the spread of Covid-19, in May the EICC launched a hybrid events solution – Make It Edinburgh Live – to deliver conferences and events for our clients, regardless of physical distance.

With this solution, we can run events entirely online or through a combination of online and in-person. Total flexibility is at the heart of the offering so the split of those attending online or in-person can be adjusted right up until the event, in case of changing health and safety guidelines.

This is more than simply live-streamed events, we have designed Make it Edinburgh Live with the aim of fostering the same meaningful interactions and connections that are present at an in-person event.

As well as presentations and plenary sessions, there are opportunities for audience participation, and for delegates to break into smaller groups for meetings and discussion.

Alongside this, attendees can enter networking spaces divided by subject matter, and there is a virtual green room for speakers to prepare and liaise with the stage managers. There are also opportunities to integrate sponsors and exhibitors who would normally be in attendance – a vital element of events for many of our clients.

It was fitting that our first Make it Edinburgh Live event was for social enterprise Street Soccer Scotland’s annual gala dinner, since one of the last events at the EICC pre-lockdown was for the David Duke-founded charity, which provides football-themed training and personal development opportunities for socially disadvantaged groups across Scotland.

With a cook-along menu, created by Nick Nairn, and a speaker line-up featuring Scottish Liverpool defender Andy Robertson, Judy Murray, Sir Tom Hunter and Sir Alex Ferguson, a truly great night was had by all.

EICC

As part of the EICC Make it Edinburgh Live offering, we have partnered with Edinburgh Lockdown Economy to give delegates an immersive city experience online.

This includes virtual tours of the Forth Bridges and St Giles’ Cathedral, taking part in a daily pub quiz at Summerhall, watching live comedy streamed from The Stand Comedy Club or experiencing a dining and wine tasting evening with Swirl Sip Socialise.

Overall, this kind of partnership is all about making the online experience as rich as possible.

Of course, as Scotland’s leading conference venue we want to get back to operational mode as soon as feasibly possible. The conference and events industry contributes hundreds of millions of pounds to the Scottish economy every year and operators and suppliers in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen and Dundee have been particularly hard hit since we went into lockdown.

In terms of the EICC alone, we contributed over £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, but with no events having taken place since early March, like many, our business has been hit hard by the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.

At the same time, we remain optimistic that we can get back to what we do best – holding events at our venue. Following extensive and ongoing dialogue with our client base, including over one hundred UK and international associations and companies, we know there is strong demand for conferences and events taking place at the venue as soon as that proves 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. The health and wellbeing of our people and our delegates will always remain paramount so we have a series of measure ready, to implement the necessary physical distancing at events in our building.

Additionally, we 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.

One common theme has been the need to differentiate business events from what are being described as “mass gatherings”.

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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 have created event packages which meet the latest WHO safety and wellbeing guidelines, whilst 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

CEO, Edinburgh International Conference Centre (EICC)

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