Bookings surge signals ‘end of Covid’ boom for UK events sector

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The UK is in store for an unprecedented boom in events as the industry prepares to stage hundreds of thousands of weddings and “end of Covid” celebrations when restrictions on gatherings are lifted this summer – just expect to pay 25% more than before the pandemic.

Booking for events have risen 250% compared with pre-Covid levels, after Boris Johnson announced a “cautious but irreversible” roadmap out of lockdown. The plans include a removal of all legal limits on mixing from 21 June, with large events permitted.

Timeline

How England’s Covid lockdown is being lifted

Show8 March 2021 Step 1, part 1

In effect from 8 March, all pupils and college students returned fully. Care home residents could receive one regular, named visitor. 

29 March 2021 Step 1, part 2

In effect from 29 March, outdoor gatherings allowed of up to six people, or two households if this is larger, not just in parks but also gardens. Outdoor sport for children and adults allowed. The official stay at home order ended, but people encouraged to stay local. People still asked to work from home where possible, with no overseas travel allowed beyond the current small number of exceptions.

12 April 2021 Step 2

In effect from 12 April, non-essential retail, hair and nail salons, and some public buildings such as libraries and commercial art galleries  reopened. Most outdoor venues can reopen, including pubs and restaurants, but only for outdoor tables and beer gardens. Customers will have to be seated but there will be no need to have a meal with alcohol.

Also reopen are settings such as zoos and theme parks. However, social contact rules still apply here, so no indoor mixing between households and limits on outdoor mixing. Indoor leisure facilities such as gyms and pools can also open, but again people can only go alone or with their own household. Reopening of holiday lets with no shared facilities is also allowed, but only for one household. Funerals can have up to 30 attendees, while weddings, receptions and wakes can have 15.

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17 May 2021 Step 3

From 17 May people can be able to meet indoors in groups of up to six or as two households, or outdoors in groups of up to 30 people. People can also choose whether to socially distance with close family and friends, meaning that they can sit close together and hug. In care homes, residents can have up to five named visitors and be entitled to make low risk visits out of the home.

People can meet in private homes, or in pubs, bars and restaurants, which will all be able to reopen indoors. Weddings, receptions and other life events can take place with up to 30 people. The cap on numbers attending funerals will depend on the size of the venue.

Most forms of indoor entertainment where social distancing is possible will also be able to resume, including cinemas, museums and children’s play areas. Theatres, concert halls, conference centres and sports stadia will have capacity limits in place.

Organised adult sport and exercise classes can resume indoors and saunas and steam rooms will reopen. Hotels, hostels and B&Bs in the UK will allow overnight stays in groups of up to six people or two households.

People will also be able to travel to a small number of countries on the green list and will not have to quarantine on return.

Pupils will no longer be expected to wear face coverings in classrooms or in communal areas in secondary schools and colleges as a result of decreasing infection rates. Twice weekly home testing will remain in place. School trips with overnight stays will also now be possible.

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21 June 2021 Step 4

No earlier than 21 June, the government had planned that all legal limits would be removed on mixing, and the last sectors to remain closed, such as nightclubs, would reopen. Large events would be able take place. However, the prime minister has said that the rise of the B.1.617.2 variant of coronavirus first detected in India may threaten this date, and health secretary Matt Hancock said it will not be confirmed before 14 June whether the government plans to stick to the timetable.

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Peter Walker Political correspondent and Rachel Hall

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Enquiries about private parties, including a glut of “end of Covid” celebrations, are up 630% and there are estimated to be more than 600,000 couples jockeying to fit in their weddings by the end of next year. The rush has seen planning times shrink from the usual average of 500 days to about 140 days as the public seek to squeeze in their chosen event as soon as the restrictions are lifted.

“It feels like the start of the ‘roaring 20s’ all over again,” says Hugo Campbell, the co-founder of event booking site Feast It. “If the roadmap works out it is the start of what is going to be a number of boom years for events, people are going for it, they want to get out and make up for lost time.”

The logjam is being caused by a combination of bookings for events that were delayed last year, second events to make up for those that were held but under strict attendance restrictions, on top of the number expected in a normal year.

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For example, there are about 250,000 weddings in the UK each year. In 2020, it is estimated that about 70% were postponed, which means there is a queue of nearly 700,000 new weddings expected from this summer until the end of next year.

Campbell says there have been inquiries for new categories such as a funeral event at a house or a venue to celebrate someone’s life, after strict limits on funeral attendee numbers during the pandemic.

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The knock-on effect of the bookings surge and closure of a significant number of suppliers unable to ride out the event drought means that prices of the highest demand events such as weddings are likely to fuel up to a 25% price hike.

“It’s a supply and demand issue,” says Campbell. “There is a huge push on suppliers but lots have gone out of business in this time.”

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The events industry has been hit harder than most sectors. While the film and TV industry has rapidly got back on its feet in large part due to the government’s £500m Covid shutdown insurance fund, the chancellor has failed to extend this to the events sector.

Following the publication of the budget last week, Julian Knight, the chair of the culture select committee of MPs, said it was “disappointing” that Rishi Sunak had again failed to extend the scheme to “provide a safety net should organisers need to cancel plans and enable more to go ahead with confidence this summer”.

The lack of insurance means that while a surge in bookings is one thing, whether they will actually be able to be staged is another.

“As it stands at the moment it is unlikely to be possible for many events to run without a government-backed Covid cancellation insurance scheme,” says Tim Thornhill, director of the entertainment division at Tysers Insurance Brokers.

“A scheme is needed to give the backing to the industry to unlock the money that flows through the supply chain.”