There has been a clear shift in mood here in the UK around COVID-19: a surge of positive vaccine news has led to a feeling that maybe this coronavirus isn't one we have to live with forever. There is now a chance that events will be back to 'normal' by summer in the UK - that would be amazing. But there is still a long way to go. The potential vaccines still need to be approved for general use, the huge logistical challenge of actually administering the doses looks ominous, and the March / April vaccination dates look overly optimistic.
So how should the events industry face this next stage of the COVID-19 pandemic?
Remain guarded. In a year of bad news it's very easy to latch onto this and convince yourself that the worst is over and that the industry will be back to 'normal' by summer. But with a long road ahead of us before any vaccine is distributed, it's essential for morale that we still position our planning as 'living with the virus', rather than without it. The industry has shown great patience, courage and ingenuity in 2020 and that must continue.
But, keep plan A on the table. There is now a chance that by summer you'll be able to host big events once more, and you're missing a huge opportunity if you don't account for that. Don't be single-minded and naïve but do be optimistic! It's been such a tough year for so many people and organisations, so don't miss the opportunity for a rewarding 2021 if the situation does allow it.
Keep up with the news but don't let it consume you. It is so difficult when situations are changing weekly and monthly and there is little to no certainty, but it is your responsibility to keep on top of what might affect your organisation or event. Be savvy, remain aware of trends - in what is allowed and what is not, in how infections are trending up or down, etc - and arm yourself with knowledge that will help you form plan A, plan B, and the rest. It's been easy to be swallowed up by the news in 2020 - why not pick a news website that gives you digestible daily summaries of what's important, and try to stick to that? This will help you only engage with what is factual, rather than the speculation and rumour of social media.
Be adaptable. There is no such thing as a long-term plan at the moment! We're all operating on a series of short-term plans that might need to change - for better or for worse - and we all need to be ready for that. Plan A can remain on the table but you can't go 'all in' on any plan. It's one of the best qualities of an events professional, so we doubt you'll have any trouble here - but maintaining some flexibility is vital to keeping yourself and your operations in order.
Plan for risk, issue and opportunity. When planning an event or project, there will always be uncertainties. Out of these uncertainties you get risks and issues (threats to your event or project), and opportunities (positive things that you might benefit from). Now more than ever, you need to properly scrutinise the uncertainty ahead of your event(s) or project(s), and follow strategies to mitigate, exploit, or form contingency plans against the uncertainty. This is a vital part of your plan A, plan B, plan C planning.
However the vaccine development progresses over the coming months, it is clear that we are entering a new phase of the pandemic. There is a sense that 'normality' could return, and it is as important to prepare for that as it is to prepare for a continuation of the pandemic cycle of higher infection rates and lower infection rates. Follow the five points above, and you can have some confidence in your planning and operations amid the uncertainty. We know that this hugely creative and adaptable events industry will be as ready as anyone for whatever comes next.