Tanya Bellingham oversees the quality, delivery and management of the events management degree curriculum at the National School of Business Management, Sri Lanka. From 2013 until recently she was a lecturer and programme manager for the events management degree at the University of Plymouth Business School.
Her early career was spent abroad working as a bilingual secretary in Paris. Upon returning to the UK, she worked in the hospitality sector before moving into further education, becoming the Curriculum Lead for Tourism at Cornwall College both for Further and Higher Education. Part of her role included working with the Eden Project for over a decade, training employees in sustainable practice. Her work in tourism, customer service and sustainable tourism gained national recognition and her department was recognised as a Centre of Vocational Excellence (COVE), for its outstanding engagement with employers in the tourism and hospitality industries.
She has also worked closely with the South West Tourism Board and with Visit Devon as a Director at a time when organisations were beginning to engage with the sustainability agenda. She designed a number of training programmes raising awareness of environmental issues, advising on writing environmental policies and strategies and worked with more than 250 businesses, including hotels and restaurants, as part of a European Social Fund project. As a result of the training she developed for sustainable tourism in the United Kingdom she was invited to work the British Council running a project in South East Europe, developing similar training packages with the government in Montenegro.
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The global pandemic threw up unprecedented challenges for the events industry which has changed almost beyond recognition. As working, meeting and socialising moved online, taking us into people’s kitchens, dining, and living rooms, our understanding of 'normal' has changed.
shares her insights into the industry developments she and her students have identified and explains how the events management degree has evolved to reflect the new external environment and also ensure that students are empowered to survive (and thrive) in this demanding, fast-paced industry.
Caught in the act
The pandemic has not been kind to the events industry. Few people could have anticipated that freedom of movement would be restricted through lockdowns for most of the world’s population. An industry that relies on people coming together almost disappeared overnight and, whilst it remains vulnerable, there are many examples of people and businesses adapting and achieving in these troubled times.
At the start of the first lockdown most UK-based events were postponed or cancelled. This challenged not only the industry, but also those teaching and studying events management. For us, lockdown meant rethinking the curriculum. We kept half an eye on the outside world as the industry responded to the challenges of lockdown whilst we redesigned the curriculum. Our degree features many opportunities for practical learning as we set students exercises to design and deliver events. As we witnessed virtual events becoming substitutes for ‘the real thing’, and the explosion of hybrid events where people participate in person and online, we incorporated these into our curriculum.
The pandemic has given us a unique opportunity to reflect, regroup and rethink the future. As we saw the industry adapt, this informed changes to our course content.
Rising to the occasion
Many events businesses have responded to the challenges of the pandemic in creative and innovative ways. Some have not only survived but, by adapting their businesses, they have thrived. Many have refocused their long-term strategies accordingly.
We have seen how event managers have had to embrace technology and technology-based solutions as events moved seamlessly from face-to-face format into the virtual world. Most event managers now incorporate technology solutions as a given in their event planning and delivery. Many say they will continue to deliver virtual and hybrid events as part of their portfolio of products.
We have witnessed how event and hospitality venues have been reconfigured to support the nation’s response to the pandemic. In 2020 the NHS, military and private sector worked together to convert conference and concert venues into Nightingale hospitals that could deliver complex critical care. Racecourses, shopping centres and sports stadia have become temporary testing or vaccination centres.
One organisation, etc venues, worked with the HM Courts & Tribunals Service (HMCTS) and temporarily re-purposed some sites to becomes Nightingale Courts. These state-of-the-art venues, equipped with the latest technology, allowed HMCTS to continue covid-secure operations, helping reduce the impact of coronavirus on the justice system. As a result, etc venues now promotes themselves as “meeting and hybrid specialists”.
Many anticipate events being more inclusive in future, with people attending and participating remotely. This has been a paradigm shift for the industry.
Recipe for success
As business leaders and entrepreneurs have reinvented their services, and achieved success doing so, we have encouraged our students to identify and analyse the contributing factors to this. Is there a formula that successful entrepreneurs have used to respond to these challenges?
Cognitive factors have played a part. Individuals who think outside the box and are able to break from the norm, respond to new ideas and show mental flexibility have developed more imaginative and varied responses in these challenging times.
Similarly, those more comfortable taking calculated risks, and tolerating ambiguity, have fared well. Being creative is simply no longer enough. Individuals need to be motivated both extrinsically and intrinsically; they must have ideas as well as the drive to transform ideas into reality. Having self-confidence, striving to achieve and being pro-active has helped. We have noticed that autonomous self-starters and non-conformists have done well. These mindsets, characteristics and traits have all contributed to success.
The events industry will continue to face critical issues moving forward. The past two years have seen it confront technological, legal, economic and environmental change. We anticipate sociological and psychological issues playing a part in the years to come. Our students get to explore this in their studies so they graduate fully aware of the contemporary, and often well-documented, challenges facing the industry.
Much public debate has focussed on managing mental health and wellbeing over the past two years. This is particularly relevant for people working in events management. Before the pandemic, the industry already had the highest level of suicide in males aged 25-45.
Events management typically attracts extroverts who get their energy from interacting with others and sampling new places and experiences. Many saw their income and livelihood dry up overnight in March 2020. Most would consider themselves creative and innovative thinkers. All will have had to dig deep and draw on their energy, problem solving skills, ‘can do’ attitude and creativity during the pandemic.
This dynamic and fast-paced industry is more volatile and vulnerable than others. Work comes in peaks and troughs. A period of intense, frenetic activity in the lead up to an event, working all hours, can be followed by a lull for weeks on end. Working in events management requires lots of energy! It attracts young people prepared (and able) to work all hours. The pandemic has shone a spotlight on this. There has never been an opportunity to put people’s mental health and wellbeing under a microscope in such a way.
Wise after the event
Everyone is trying to predict the industry’s future direction. We have encouraged our students to consider what their future in the industry might be. What will the appetite for in person events be? How will people feel about attending them? What will people’s expectations of event organisers be? We have encouraged students to explore how the industry might respond to these questions.
One of the trends emerging from the pandemic is that the appetite for ‘traditional’ events have waned. Whilst most people want life to return to ‘normal’, sections of society are still reluctant to attend events despite mass vaccination programmes being rolled out. Various age groups perceive risk differently. Young people have a strong sense of having missed out over the past two years. They are less fearful about catching covid and the implications of Covid for their health. As soon as the opportunity presented itself, many wanted to attend events. Other age groups are more hesitant. Parents with young children and those with family members who are vulnerable have been more risk averse.
We have identified links with previous work around tourism and terrorism. Work undertaken after the terrorist attacks at sites in Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco has investigated how people rationalise the risk of terrorism in specific industries. Some still go on holiday to places where the risk is high saying ‘terrorism will not beat me’. Where this differs with the pandemic is that the virus is not geographically fixed. No one knows where a new Covid variant will strike next. It will be interesting to see how people’s responses to this uncertainty develop over time.
Frame of mind
In the post-pandemic world, hybrid events will be offered as the norm. Many assume that virtual and hybrid events require less planning. This is not borne out by our experience! They require more preparation. Not everyone is comfortable in front of the camera or speaking from a screen. A lot more thought needs to be put into what speakers’ needs might be. This necessitates more considered planning and scheduling. Event managers will need to pay more attention to the psychological aspects in future. How can speakers engage with and build rapport with an audience remotely? How can they engage with a virtual and live audience simultaneously? How can we be sure everyone is empowered to use the equipment properly?
An event manager has less control over speakers in a virtual session. Screen sharing is now commonplace, but less attention is being paid to what is shared. Personal information can slip through. Different skills and preparation are required for the management of hybrid and virtual events; this includes consideration of onscreen lighting, having appropriate backdrops, presenters not wearing loudly patterned clothes. A lot of technical issues come into play when managing virtual events (and that is before we factor in whether the technology will work!)
In any event
The pandemic forced us to rethink our degree curriculum. Our contacts helped us keep up to speed with industry developments and this informed revisions to our curriculum. Setting our students different challenges ensures they have skills relevant for the workplace now. The theory on events management is evolving all the time as the real and virtual worlds have collided. Before it was a case of face-to-face events informing the evolution of virtual events. That has been turned on its head.
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