“We are entering an era of massive uncertainty”: Event profs react to Brexit

The UK woke up today to the reality of Brexit. With a 52 per cent majority, Vote Leave is celebrating a successful campaign that will see England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland leave the European Union.

Access spoke to members of the events industry to gauge the temperature of the room. While some, such as former MP Nick de Bois, who supported the Leave campaign, praised the British public’s “momentous decision”, others expressed their own fears for the future ahead. And yet, BVEP’s Michael Hirst, while emphasising the uncertainty Britain now faces, said there is much to be positive about – and that the most important thing now is to “promote strongly why events are so important to Britain’s future”.

Read on for more comments from the UK and international events industry about the Brexit decision. This post will be updated throughout the day as more reactions come in.

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Truck Festival

“Truck Festival has always been a place for different tribes to get together and celebrate the shared love of music. While the Oxford area voted to Remain, and many of us feel the Leave vote is bad news for young people, we woke up today to a country divided in half. We will all have to rebuild bonds in our communities. Gathering in a field together is one way to do that, and we are proud that Truck has always been such a warm, welcoming and inclusive space. As Jo Cox said, we’ve all got more in common than that which divides us.”

Paul Reed, AIF

“The result of the referendum is astonishing. As an industry, we were resolutely for remaining in the EU. The festival market has developed as a truly European market aimed at Europe wide audiences, this is a great strength and won’t change. Will it now become more complicated to work across borders? What will the impact be on touring musicians, especially emerging artists in terms of visas and other issues? There are certainly more questions than answers as we survey the initial fall-out. We could also potentially see a reduction in ‘music tourism’, which generated £3.7bn for the UK economy in 2015, with a year-on-year increase of 16 per cent in overseas tourists attending music events. I’m sure that the industry will work hard to ensure that relationships throughout the independent festival community are not diminished as a result of these events.”

Michael Hirst OBE, BVEP

“Obviously these results don’t reflect the views that the partners put in the survey we carried out, where 90 per cent felt that there wouldn’t be any benefit to the number of events attracted to the UK, and 60 per cent predicted less industry investment.

“However, what’s important is that the industry hopes that the process will move fairly quickly. While nothing is likely to happen until we have a new leader of the Conservative party and a new prime minister, we do need a level of certainty. So many large-scale events are booked today for holding two to four years ahead. So event organisers will be concerned about what are they offering for those events when they have to bid and quote now not knowing what the situation is going to be.

“There were some positive points from our survey that could bear out. The weakening of the pound makes Britain more competitive, and we have a greater flexibility to win more global events, especially now that we have a new industry board in place and much more willingness on the part of the government to support events.

“We also need to absolutely ensure that Britain is kept centre stage and really go overboard in expressing the natural advantage of the UK as a destination of choice. We have ease of access, common language for most countries, lots of good attractions up and down country, which visitors to events can enjoy and we are a hub of knowledge for scientific research and industrial strength – all of which are benefits that must be promoted as why events in Britain can deliver higher return than elsewhere.

“I wasn’t pleased that Cameron resigned but I noted during his speech that he specifically referenced science, arts and engineering, specific sectors where events stand very tall. Our international conventions in science and medicine are amongst the best in the world; engineering gives rise to a lot of trade fairs in the UK; and arts and culture, given that its Glastonbury week and music festivals this year have shown a billion pounds increase in visitor spend on the last survey by UK Music, ‘Wish You Were Here’, one has to think of cultural events not only as a form of fun and leisure, but also business activity as well.

“We’ve got to be positive and continue to promote strongly why events are so important to Britain’s future now more than ever. For the next two years while everyone’s running around, there could be more meetings and events than ever before. All of that is going to create activity. We shouldn’t panic in the short term.”

Adnan Mehmedović, Fresh Island Festival

“As Croatian festival organisers we are concerned at how this situation will affect our many UK visitors. It could have various implications on visas, airplane tickets and more. We see ourselves as a festival with no borders with visitors from over 50 countries round the world so will continue to welcome everyone who enjoys music and urban culture.”

Chris Skeith, AEO

“Brexit has demonstrated quite a divided Britain with a result which has shocked many. What’s really important now – regardless of the outcome we received today – is that we as an industry need to pull together on two key fronts.

“The first is to carry on with the good collaborative work achieved to date with the current government and their departments, which is recognising the value of the sector in terms of economic impact and jobs and the incremental benefits we can bring to the economy so we must make sure that whoever pulls the strings going forward continues in this vein.

“The second clearly is that change brings opportunity, some may clearly be frustrated with the result but we have a unique chance to work collaboratively to effect positive change. We must ensure we simply don’t wait for change to happen, so we need to make sure that collaboratively as an industry we consider all aspects and represent members’ views to turn any negatives into positives. Careful consideration and collaboration will I am sure help make for an improved position for the industry.”

Nick de Bois

“This momentous decision by the British people sets the course for the UK to excel in global markets, free of the heavy bureaucratic and undemocratic institutions of the EU. There will of course be a period of adjustment but the bottom line is that the future is in our own hands to determine and that presents the UK with a massive opportunity.

“Our events sector is the best in the world and held in very high regard across the globe for its creativity, logistical professionalism & delivering some of the best domestic and international events. It’s time to put the debate behind us and seize this opportunity to grow our industry sector not just in Europe but the rest of the world.”

Tracy Halliwell, London & Partners

“London remains one of the best cities in which to build a global business and to hold an international event. Until the facts become clearer, we believe there is no immediate cause for concern and there will be ample time to develop and effect plans to ensure continuity of business over the coming years.

“In short this vote does not alter London’s position as one of the world’s most welcoming and truly global cities. London offers a world class centre for international business and cultural and sporting events during and after any exit from the EU and we are committed to the continued growth of our city.”

Claire Stokes, Circle Agency

“For differing reasons as an events/marketing professional, as an entrepreneur, as a woman and as a mother, today’s vote to leave the EU terrifies me. There is no question that as an experiential agency we have already felt the effects commercially of the referendum (as clients hold back investment- due to an uncertainty around Brexit) and I am now bracing myself for a even rockier road ahead.  With the decision made, we have no choice but to look forward, do what we can to steady the economy. Do what we can to support our clients as they try to navigate the effects to their businesses, while also doing what is best for our own. I only hope that businesses large and small can withstand the now two to three years of turmoil, and deliberation that we now face.

“Only time will tell the overall ramifications for the events industry.  I fear however, that it will mean an uncertainty around investment by global brands to spend on marketing and events – that will certainly put an immediate strain on our industry. The ease of activation in a single market is now largely a thing of the past and the cost of activation will have to increase.  Who will ultimately pay the price for this, initially it will undoubtedly be agencies and brands, but in the long term, it will be the consumer, the employee and the great British Public.

“I hope I am wrong. The patriot in me wants to believe that Britain can make it through this.  The question I ask is why we have to. It feels like we are climbing an enormous mountain when we could have easily taken the cable car to the top.  Sure it may have needed a little maintenance, but it was still going to get us where we needed to be much quicker and with less risk of injury along the way.”

Owen Smith, Gibraltar Music Festival

“The result of the UK referendum on EU membership is disappointing for Gibraltar, which has voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU. The majority of our overseas sales are to UK nationals resident either in the United Kingdom or in Spain. Uncertainty about what the future holds, possible UK recession and a weaker pound will all impact on those sales. That said, our growth plans for 2016 were conservative, and we hope to remain on track to meet sales targets.” 

Greg Lawson, Smart Group

“Today’s shocking and momentous EU Referendum result has caught most people by surprise, as a result, we are now in unchartered and uncertain waters. If Brexit wasn’t enough, the resignation of the Prime Minister, financial market turmoil and the pound plummeting to dangerously low levels sent shock waves across all industry sectors. Government must now come together and act decisively to provide clarity on the exit process to minimise short term effects on the hospitality industry.

“Smart Group is as an employer of both EU and non-EU staff, and we value their contribution to the business greatly and remain committed to all our staff and suppliers for the long term. Smart Group is in a strong position to weather any potential storm and continue to thrive and grow. In the long term, the UK will ultimately thrive as an independent country, creating its own laws and we’ll work with our neighbours in Europe and around the world to ensure a positive outcome for all parties.”

Nick Gold, Speakers Corner

“We are entering an era of massive uncertainty but one that we anticipate to open great opportunities. As a provider of expert opinion, commentary and analysis on economic and financial implications we hope to provide clarity to both domestic and international corporates to help them plan and take advantage of the landscape ahead.”

Edward Poland, Hire Space

“Big investments still coming in to the Hire Space crowdfunding campaign this morning. Up to 110% funded since the EU announcement, from 106%. Vote of confidence in the future of the events industry I’d say.”

David Pegler, ExCeL London

“ExCeL London is pleased that the uncertainty and unpredictability of the referendum campaign is now over. Although we do not yet know the full details of what Brexit will mean in terms of trade, access to the single market or free-flowing business travel, we are confident of a bright future for the London economy and for ExCeL.

“London always has and always will be a great place to live, work and do business. Even outside of the EU, London’s advantages as a world city – its time zone, access to cutting edge technology and innovation, a competitive business environment, transport connectivity, its economic dynamism, its strength in financial services, the availability of a highly skilled workforce, and its innate entrepreneurial spirit – will ensure that the capital will not just survive but thrive in the global economy. ExCeL London looks forward to playing its part in London’s post-EU success story, to continue hosting world-leading events, and to reaping the benefits of a Brexit boost.”

Joel Crouch, Eventbrite

“Clearly, this was not a decision that anyone took lightly – in London alone, we spotted close to a hundred events on our platform where the EU referendum was being discussed in the run up to the vote. Like any other business, we cannot predict the precise impact of this outcome both on our company and the wider events industry in Britain, simply because no one knows yet what this Brexit will entail. For the time being, that means business as usual for us.”

Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre (SECC)

“The company anticipates conducting its business in exactly the same way as before. The markets in which we operate mean that our clients and visitors come from across Scotland, the rest of the UK and internationally and this is unlikely to alter. Further planned investment in our facilities will make sure that our business is well placed for the future. We will build on our strong relationships with strategic partners at a local and national level to ensure that the SECC continues to be a strong economic driver for Glasgow and Scotland.”

Steve Garvey, EVCOM

“EVCOM supports the strongest possible trade links with the European Union, regardless of the UK’s membership of it. We urge the UK Government, the European Council and the European Commission to work closely and constructively towards an orderly exit for the UK from the EU.

“The live and visual communication industry is significant, contributing approximately 2 per cent of UK GDP. The success of EVCOM members in exporting to the EU and global markets is vital to the continued ability of our members to contribute to the success of the UK economy. Our members look to political leaders to provide stability, certainty and clarity at the earliest opportunity to support business decisions concerning investment, employment and international trade.

“In particular we believe it is vital to continue to allow the free movement of people, capital, goods and services between the UK and the rest of Europe. While the UK will remain a member of the EU for some time, it is essential that our members are able to deliver events and produce screen content in the EU after the Brexit process is completed.”

Dale Parmenter, drp

“We are so good in this country at over speculating and sensationalism. We need to be calm while the uncertainty continues and look for the opportunities, while keeping a close eye on the threats. Unfortunately our sector is dominated so much by how large global corporates respond and act, we need to understand what it all means for them and hope it all the noise settles as quickly as possible.”

Matt Storey, Gallowglass

“Uncertainty in the financial markets usually results in a hold on non business critical spend. One thing we can be certain of is that there will be a period of uncertainty and an extended one at that. This is not good news for the event industry.”