Day one of the Event Production Show 2022 saw leading live event professionals from across the industry unite to debate pressing concerns such as the supply chain, rising costs, sustainability and how societal issues such as female safety and drug use can best be addressed at festivals.

In all, the five Main Stage panels at ExCeL London hosted 22 senior event professionals including London Marathon Events director Hugh Brasher, Wimbledon Championships operations director Michelle Dite, AEG Europe chief operating officer John Langford, Kilimanjaro Live director and Ed Sheeran UK promoter Steve Tilley, AIF CEO Paul Reed, End of the Road festival MD Lauren Down and S&C Productions head of partnerships Chris Jammer.

Asked about consumer confidence, as the pandemic’s grip loosens, and whether the ’20s will be “roaring” as hoped, Tilley said that he expects it to take until the mid 2020s for the industry to fully bounce back and work through the challenges it currently faces.

He said that the cost increases currently impacting the industry means that the profit margin at some events, such as Kilimanjaro’s Belladrum Festival, have been dramatically reduced and that it was a matter of pressing ahead with events and maintaining a longterm perspective.

Tilley noted that the further acceptance of digital tech solutions, such as mobile ticketing, during the pandemic helped enable the promoter to enhance its digital-only, tout-proof, tech for the forthcoming Ed Sheeran tour, while Dite said the Wimbledon Championship went fully digital with ticketing for the first time in 2021.

Brasher said the focus on digital delivery, and the creation of virtual participation platforms for the London Marathon last year removed constraints and made it far more inclusive. He said London Marathon Events is working on plans to enhance the hybrid event offering going forwards, and its goal is to get one million children across the UK involved in this year’s Mini Marathon.

Smyle and One Industry One Voice (OIOV) founder Rick Stainton said the industry shouldn’t be afraid of embracing the metaverse, virtual and augmented reality technology, as a way of expanding the reach of events and evolving the offering in the decade ahead.

The fact the industry is working more collaboratively than ever was universally seen as a positive. Stainton said the next chapter for industry collaboration initiative OIOV was to create a data-led communications hub for the industry.

Dite said the industry has a collective responsibility to ensure the decade is successful for jobs, people, welfare and security of income: “People want to go out and enjoy themselves, and we haven’t done that for a couple of years. [The events industry] will come back differently, but different is okay.”

In a panel exploring societal issues and their impact on event management, chaired by We are the Fair head of production Yasmin Galletti, Reed said it was not possible to have a zero tolerance approach to drug use at the majority of festivals, and that a pragmatic approach to harm reduction was the most realistic tactic.

The panelists discussed the work of drug safety testing initiative The Loop, which the majority said was advantageous if costly, but Jammer raised a concern that adopting drug safety testing at a festival could encourage people to bring drugs to the event.

Down said she would back a service like The Loop at End of the Road if the audience was “that way inclined”, and agreed the festival industry and relevant authorities need to have an “honest and open conversation” about the issue in order to help save lives.

Reed said that a zero tolerance approach was entirely appropriate when it comes to sexual harassment at festivals. He said some of AIF’s members reported more incidents of sexual assault at festivals last year: “It’s more prevalent than ever and it’s not an issue that anyone can ignore.”

The AIF CEO said the association was focused on continuing and enhancing the Safer Spaces at Festivals campaign it launched in 2017, with the aim of raising greater awareness about sexual violence across everyone from audiences to artists, staff and volunteers.

Jammer cited the statistic that 40% of women under 40 said they have experienced a form of sexual assault at a festival, and he said he wants to see this drop over the next few years. He said, “We’re not going to cure this overnight, it’s an ongoing process. This is an industry-wide issue and it’s only going to work if we have a general standard in place across all festivals.”

Down said educating both festival staff and audiences on safety measures will have a “trickle-down effect”. She added that basic logistical measures such as having the correct lighting in darker areas and utilising enough roaming staff on site are crucial and sometimes overlooked.

Brasher emphasised the importance of the Access All Areas conference at EPS as a forum for debate and exchange of ideas. He said, “The industry is still in a period of transition, there are lots of uncertainties in the market, so the important thing to carry on doing is talking and listening to each other and helping each other. The fact you have got people from across the industry talking, and even in preparation of this talk today, I was getting some brilliant nuggets that I have been using in other conversations across our business.”