MICE Conversations - Caroline Phelan, VisitBritain Meetings and Incentive Senior Manager Europe
(Upbeat music) - So hello and welcome to another MICE conversations the YouTube series and podcast. Today I'm delighted to be talking to Caroline Phelan, who is Meetings and Incentive Senior Manager Europe at Visit Britain and based in Paris. Caroline you're very welcome. Thank you for joining us. - Thank you Michael, It's lovely to be here.
- So the obvious question with the UK with with Visit Britain is how are you getting on? I mean, from a European perspective, obviously you're based in Paris, I'm based in Ireland. We've all been watching since the start of the year as Britain, I suppose, has been ahead of the rest of us in terms of opening up. How has that translated into the MICE market, or has it? - Well, I suppose, Michael, before 2019 the value of business events was 19.4 billion to the UK
and that just plummeted like, like all destinations. - Yeah - So I, but on a positive side, I was reading the, I don't know if you've heard of the group, the Cities We Start group? - No - It's a group of industry around the UK and they requested a study by tourism economics, which commenced in September, So it's hot off the press really and well worth the read. They were predicting, business to be back to 2019 levels, to in 2023. But on a very positive note, they were expecting business to be, have a 46% increase by 2026. - Wow.
- So, but I think in order to get levels like that, I think everybody realizes that it's international delegates that will bring that in because they're worth six times more than a national delegate, you know, a domestic delegate. So it's, it's essential that the, we see the internationals coming in, they're not currently coming in and there is domestic events taking place and took place very early compared to a lot of European countries. So it was as you know, that the UK opened their business events and in different regions around UK. So that's been happening which has been wonderful and there was a domestic fund created to help domestic conferences and events take place to kick off and business events again. So that they are ready, these venues are open and ready and working and staff are in place to look after the internationals when they come back. - So in fact, it was probably important that domestic started early because it was a learning curve in terms of let's get the process up and running again.
Let's learn from reopening with all these new protocols and then that gets us ready to welcome the international visitor. - Exactly, exactly and Europe is moving, you know, Europe has started to move out here. I've been on the road now since September at live sales platform events and talking to buyers face to face and Europe is moving.
Of course, most of it domestic, however, you know, the north , we're all going south, corporate MICE and moving down to get a last bit of sun. And, I suppose it's, it's, there is a risk involved for some corporates because you know, they're afraid of new COVID rules coming in, or, but, you know, in our case, we've put in, in place a risk scheme, which just was put in place in September. So it will last for a year where there'll be close indemnisation if a group has to be canceled because of COVID law. So, you know, it's, it's important that, you know, we take that sort of element out of the story.
So to enable people to, you know, to book and have confidence, to book. - Yeah, to manage risk. - To manage risk. Exactly. Yeah. - Well, let let's time timestamp this conversation. Cause obviously today is the 13th of October and a lot has happened in the UK this month, in particular, I'm thinking of the 4th of October when the traffic light system was effectively over hold or made redundant we only have a red list now for the UK. So Amber and green are gone and that red list has been greatly reduced to that.
That, that's a big change for the UK market. How, how does that impact longterm? Because obviously, you know, none of us in MICE expected things to, you know, reopen immediately as in anybody who's planning a big event, is looking at next year anyway. Does that give people more confidence in the fact that, you know, those restrictions are as good as gone at this stage as in there are very few restrictions left? - Do you know around Europe, if you were to tell somebody a rule today, you can't predict what the rule would be a week from now. It's the same for every, every country. I mean, everybody is opening up slowly yes, and the UK have done even more, we're moving more of the rules and the testing processes, et cetera.
So that will enable us to have international visitors to come back and our message is very much, you know, we're open for business now. And if you even look at the booking trends at the moment, you know, Cvent is a good platform that you can really see what's been booked and you know, they're booking now they've a very short window. So there is an opportunity to grab business for the winter.
So I think people are taking, you know, grabbing what they know is sure for now and so the booking windows are going to be shorter going forwards as well. So it is difficult to predict for something, you know, in six months we don't know where we were. I mean, look at us all sort of last year saying, oh September, it'll be fine, we'll be all back.
(laughter) You know, we were all, I think thinking that way. So we're still thinking that way and I think that's the only way we can, you know, and put in place, of course, you know, this risk steam, which I think is a very positive thing you know a lot of people do have plan B's, you know, and it is challenging for companies especially for association conferences, you know, to have a plan B is, is a whole, you know, other file that they have to create and potentially, you know, cost and, and staffing. - Yeah _ But um, yeah.
- What are the practicalities on the ground? Because I think, you know, there's still the demand and interest in, in running events in the UK and particularly around Europe people traveling. But what are the practicalities in terms of standards, for example? So to give you an example I'm going to Portugal tomorrow to a conference it's a small conference. There'll be a hundred people, but all of us will do the lateral flow test before day one. Are there a UK wide standards or does each association or organization decide on what standards are appropriate? - No, there are UK standards in place. So, but that depends if it's in England, Scotland, Northern Ireland or Wales. - Yeah - So they're in place and very clear on the government site and we direct all of the buyers towards those sites, but again, those standards move, change.
They're all going towards the right direction and you know, there are huge events booked for next year that are coming in based on those standards today. But they're, they're in, they're in place and we don't, we can't predict how they will move, but today it is a positive, you know, it is going towards an easing of standards. I mean, today you can have, I was talking to a buyer and she has a thousand people in Birmingham this week in, and, in one event space, you know, and so no masks, you know, can that happen? Yes, it can. - That's good to hear - Yeah. Yeah, it was, it is wonderful to hear. - And speaking of challenges, I mean, I've just booked an event, one of our own events for July of next year. Just confirmed the contract this week and that's for an event here in Dublin and the, the, the challenge for us in terms of running that event is that the costs have increased significantly.
And that cost is primarily around the issue of staffing and labor, not for us, but for the venue itself. Is that something you're seeing in the UK as well? I mean, and I don't think it's unique to the UK, if it is also happening there, I'm seeing this across the board. - Yes. I think it is. It's going to be a challenge, it's really important.
I mean, this, there's several, I mean, of course, you know, COVID rules changing pricing, you know, all of these destinations, all destinations have had no MICE business, we all need it back. So it's going to be extraordinarily competitive next year and going forward together with the back business you know, back to doing back and growing from 2019 levels and following those wonderful predictions. And it is, you know, price is a challenge, I think another challenge is also access. A lot of, you know, we're islands are islands and Ireland.
The UK is an island. I mean, we do have the tunnel, but still access is key to all of our MICE business and I think that's going to be a challenge. We did have some good news this weekend, Vueling announced some lovely flights from Paris, in fact, in to the UK and even the direct flight into Belfast, which I think is nearly a first from Paris in my career anyway.
So that's important and with the capacity, but you know, access and of course we have Brexit being a challenge for us in the UK. The image of Brexit and also the logistics around it. But I mean, our message is very much, you know, for business events, nothing's changed, you know, you just come, all you need is a passport. That's the only major change for any of our delegates you know, coming into the UK, but, you know, perception is, is a challenge and also association conferences that may only do events in EU countries or are EU funded.
So that will be something as well that is an issue for us though. So there are several challenges I think, but we've always had challenges. I mean, okay COVID is the worst we've come across and I would say during COVID the only good thing about COVID was people stopped talking about Brexit for a while. (laughter) But now the COVID is, is sort of, is on its way to control and positivity, ahead.
Brexit it is still something that people are discussing and of course it's in the press daily. - Yeah, of course. So can I ask you about changes that have happened? And I don't necessarily mean as a result of the pandemic, but more so how's the industry, the UK use the opportunity, use the time for a strategic reboot and I use the word reboot because I was watching one of your promotional videos from last year when the reopening was happening and it was reboot, re-invent, et cetera. Has there been a lot of that? What changes can people expect or, or are they visible? - Yes, I think, well, look at us, we're on zoom. Zoom is here to stay and hybrid is definitely here to stay.
So, like most of Europe, venues organization have adapted to the hybrid future. You know, a lot of events will include hybrid as an element and even agencies, you know, have employed staff that are more technical savvy and potentially in the past, as a huge agency in Paris, for example, I was talking to the manager there and she was just saying, you know, people have left but people have arrived as well with different skills that they didn't need or have potentially before On the ground I think, innovation has to have happened, has happened, you know, more innovative ways of dealing with this issue and a new programs and new ideas and resilience, you know, of course, and I think sustainability is something that's not, no longer going to be an option. You know, prior a few years ago, sustainability was, yes we have it if it doesn't cost us any more money, you know, but you know, paper cups are more expensive or, you know, whatever they were looking at, if it was more expensive, they wouldn't do it. That's no longer an option and I think that's really come through going forward and you know, probably that COP 26 is happening very shortly in the UK and hopefully, you know, there'll be big decisions taken at those, at that event and that we can, build on the success of that event.
- What about trans going forward? You mentioned people kind of seizing the opportunity and booking for this winter, but, but long-term 2022. How is it panning out? Are you seeing any trends in terms of different types of bookings, different types of time frames, in terms of when people are booking? Is there anything you can kind of give us some insight on? - Yeah, absolutely. So bookings are happening, which is wonderful, not just RFPs, but bookings and we've seen a 17% increase in RFP's, since May, which is, you know, especially since the beginning of September because in Europe, of course, August and July, August is very quiet. - Yeah. - So September has just gone, you know, that way, which is very positive short as we were saying earlier short booking times.
So you know, about a four week booking trend. Also corporate MICE coming back in groups that actually I thought would be smaller, but actually similar sizes to 2019. So corporate groups, first association conferences that had been postponed are now coming in and booked for next year.
So going forwards and that's still being booking, you know, for longer lead in time but bookings coming in and inquiries coming in. So it's all looking fairly positive. Michael. So that's the. - Are there bottlenecks? - Are there bottlenecks? because one thing I've seen across Europe is a lot of people have had to postpone obviously and delay conferences from 2020 and 21. And we're some bottlenecks in the industry here in terms of availability being an issue, has that worked its way through the market already, Or is that still evident? - No, no.
It's something that I haven't come across yet, for the UK, not bottlenecks. No, no thank goodness. No, I'd hoped we could facilitate business coming in and of course, you know, one of our priorities is regional spread. So it's also prior to, prior to the sort of the COVID people were moving around, especially England, you know, Scotland was doing, you know, people are quite aware of what's happened, what we, can be done in Scotland, Wales as well, has been developing its MICE image in the markets and England has been largely an unknown region outside London, you know, but the south of England, we have great trends coming in there, the central England and of course the north of England which is amazing region to be discovered and has very competitive rates.
And we would, you know, encourage people to explore those because some people might have been image that Sterling is expensive, but if they explore a little bit beyond what they know, they can get quite competitive rates and of course availability. - Yeah. One of the other challenges that I've, I've noted, and this is for us and others have recounted it to me is contacts, we seem to be all rebuilding our databases again. So many people have, you know, moved on or had to rescale or, you know, sadly some agencies have gone within the industry, but yet there are also some new agencies that I've seen as well and actually one of the advantages of these, these MICE conversations is people say, I like them because I can actually see familiar faces that are, you know, that are actually still there, cause I just don't know who's there and who isn't there. So it's great to see you on camera and I think people will appreciate that. So talk to me about the role, I mean, we've talked about changes, but what is the role of, of Visit Britain within the MICE industry? I mean, you're obviously based in Paris covering all of Europe, but the broader role both for you and your team and also the UK team.
- Yeah well I suppose, it's very much developing brand awareness, developing awareness of what people can do, telling them there is access. They're welcome, giving them Brexit information if that's a concern, the latest COVID information, identifying opportunities, also opportunities within government sector priorities which is something we do focus on a lot and using the expertise on the ground to attract international MICE business into the UK. So the wide and bass, you know, the wide, I'm trying to use, not to use French words here, (laughter) the wide, resile, I'm going to use it anyway. Resile of association, ambassadors... resource Thank you, Michael, to attract, you know, really key sector and events into the destination, not just for the volume of people, but also for what they're talking about as we call it the legacy, but what they're talking about and what they're bringing into the country.
So to identify that and then of course just support. You have, you know, bid funds available to UK industry to bid for international events, so that's another one of our key roles. - That's interesting. I wonder if you could reference the website where people can find out more and obviously I'll include this in the show notes, both for the YouTube video and the podcast. Where can people find out more and find out about the resources? I mean, you've mentioned a number of resources and supports that are available.
- Yeah. For UK industry, I suppose it's our corporate website, which is Visit Britain Corporate website and then for buyers, we have the Events Are Great website, where we give information for very much choosing the destination and practical information about coming to the UK and why would you choose the UK is a MICE destination. So there's two key websites there with two very different messages. - Okay. And then lastly, you mentioned specific sectors where there are supports, give me an example of one or two of all of the, of those sectors that, that there are supports available in. - Yeah. Well,
I'll give you even an example of health and life sciences or maybe even AI, there's a list of about 20 different sectors. But last week I attended an event which was focused on buyers that organize events, meetings, and events around the health sector. And this was phenomenal the potential that was in that room. It was just, you know, an, all booking events to the UK and future events and past a bit, of course, having done events in the past and looking for events in the UK because of its sector and because of, you know, the innovation in the UK around the medical and life sciences industry, you know, you have a, they call it the medical triangle between London, Oxford, and Cambridge. and, there's just so much going on in the UK around the health industry. - Yeah and the UK obviously has a very good reputation or a heightened reputation as a result of the pandemic because of the work that was done on the vaccines in the very early stages.
So I'm, I'm sure that will be leveraged. Well, look, we'll include all those 20 different sectors. We will get the link and include it in the show notes here. Before I finish up, I want to give a little plug. We have our own MICE event, the Mice Meetup Dublin is finally back after two years of being postponed. We're back on April the 12th, 2022 the same venue, the Alex Hotel.
So Caroline, thank you very much for your time. We've been talking to Caroline Phelan here from Visit Britain based in Paris, looking after the whole of the UK. Caroline. Thank you again.
- Thank you, Michael. It's been a pleasure.