We're good to go: UK

We're good to go: UK


In this episode we talk with Leila Heller, Meetings and Incentives Director, North America at VisitBritain/MeetEngland, and Caroline Phelan, Meetings and Incentive Senior Manager Europe, about how the UK is preparing to safely welcome back events and visitors. 

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Cvent CONNECT is going virtual

Today, Brooke and Cody sat down with Leila Heller, Meetings and Incentives Director of North America at VisitBritain/MeetEngland, and Caroline Phelan, Meetings and Incentive Senior Manager Europe, to talk to us about how the UK is preparing to safely welcome back visitors and events. They share their insights on the impact they think the current pandemic will have on the industry both in the short term and long term for the UK. They also share some really creative ideas that UK restaurants and bars have to help ensure social distancing.


  • Leila Heller, Meetings and Incentives Director, North America at VisitBritain/MeetEngland
  • Caroline Phelan, Meetings and Incentive Senior Manager Europe 


  • Brooke Gracey, Senior Manager, Demand Generation, Cvent
  • Cody Liskh, Team Lead, Event Quarterback Team, Cvent


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Cody Liskh 

Alright, Leila and Caroline. Thank you so much for joining the podcast. But before we get started, could you each tell us a little bit about what you do at Visit Britain, just a snapshot of your role if you will and way. Well, Leila, how about we start off with you.  

Leila Heller 

Yes, thanks. Cody. Well, first off, I want to thank you and Brooke for welcoming us here today on this event podcast I personally want to say that I'm a fan of the podcast. So, it's really nice to be here and to have the opportunity to chat with you So thanks again. to our listeners, we wanted to say hello and welcome and I'm Leila Heather Director of meetings and incentives at visit Britain I cover the North American market. So, the US and Canada, specifically. And basically, I work together closely with our business events team in London. My role is really to promote the UK and Northern Ireland ss leading meetings and incentives destinations throughout North America. So that's really my main role, I would say in terms of the market My clients Our clients the clients that we service really are corporation’s incentive houses and associations. So, really, a variety in terms of the types of clients that we do service. And one very important point that I wanted, Caroline and I both wanted to point it out on this podcast is that as a CVV We're a neutral and unbiased source of information for our market. So, our goal is to really connect to the end client. And really connect them with the right destination That's good for them and their needs the right DMC’s the local companies in the UK. That would be the perfect match for their particular requests. 

So, this is sometimes helpful for the audience of listeners to really know that about us, but I'm also joined here by my colleague, Caroline and I'll let her introduce herself as well. 


Caroline Phelan 

Well hi there Cody and Brooke and now it's just like I'm good to Join and Leila with saying thank you very much for inviting us today and I'm online with you from Paris, in France, and then I'm working from home, but I sadly don't have a view of the Eiffel Tower, but I'm lucky enough to have a garden to overlooked and today and like Leila, and my job and out here in Europe is Promoting and Northern Ireland, England, Scotland and Wales and as the very best possible places to bring and meetings incentive and events. 

So, and Leila and I do the same and from opposite sides of the ocean. And I suppose Maybe my background, I well am I joined the team about three years ago, I am and after working for another Tourist Board and might guess which one from my accent Maybe and but I also worked for a leading destination management company and ran my own traveled marketing consultancy for about seven years. 

So, I'm good experience in the field and work really closely with them all of the incentive houses at here in Europe or association organizations, etc. 


Brooke Gracey 

It's so great to have both you Caroline and Leila on the podcast today. So, thank you so much for joining and Caroline Don't worry I also do not have a view of the Eiffel Tower. So, you are in a good company. I know it's a little bit of a strange time we're in right now. You know, we're 

experiencing something that's really unprecedented but you guys have this interesting perspective that I really want to dig into when it comes to how this is going to impact the industry in the UK, both in the short term and the long term. 


Leila Heller 

like the rest of the world The UK has been significantly impacted by COVID 19 Which is needless to say, right, we were all aware of what's going on. But having said that, we've been incredibly impressed by how resilient and agile, the sector has actually been during the pandemic. 

I think you and the listeners have likely already seen this coverage in the news, but it's still worth noting that Many of our convention centers across the UK, just a few examples that come to mind Excel London, and they see Birmingham, SEC Glasgow, and Manchester central but there are more 

They have supported the NHS National Health Services fight against covid19 by Really transforming their spaces into a fully functioning hospital. So that was the first thing that we saw really transforming the industry once COVID had hit. And in addition to this, we also saw many event contractors who also helped Build the required medical facilities in record time and this was also something that made us really proud to see in the UK. 

We've also seen countless of examples of event caterers and hotels that helped feed and provide accommodation for busy healthcare workers. Other companies that really offered their support in any way no matter what the company was an example that comes to mind is the leading car manufacturer Land Rover Which offered over 100 vehicles to be used by the British Red Cross during this time. there were also a number of distilleries that Instead of producing gin, they produced hand sanitizer during the pandemic, and we saw that here in the States as well. So, it's just all these examples. 

You know, nonprofit organizations, there's one that's called Open kitchen Manchester They provided over 11,000 meals to those in need during the pandemic. 

Using all these ingredients that would have others gone otherwise gone to waste. So, these are all really incredibly heartwarming stories and examples of resiliency and in our greater industry and really across all industries in the UK. 

And in addition to also that kind of sacrifice that we've seen in that kind of resilience. We've also seen our destinations and suppliers quickly change their way of doing things. They have adapted to the needs of the current situation by, for example, offering virtual site visits, which I know all the listeners are really familiar with. From our side, at Visit Britain We're also encouraging the market to explore virtual discoveries via our website www.eventsaregreat.com and Their listeners can really go on virtual tours of convention centers and venues. They can cook special UK recipes at home, and this includes baking recipes now. 

I myself am not a baker at all. I'm not a chef but rest assured that for those listening in, who are more mixologists than chef There are also a few specialty cocktail recipes that feature the famous Brighton gin, for example. So, there are nice virtual activities. A good way to connect to the destination and have a true, authentic UK experience without actually being able to be there in person at this particular moment. 

I should also mention and Canada, and we're speaking about this before, that the UK is slowly beginning to lift restrictions. Were, of course, following that closely in the short term the industry is going to be like many other destinations focused on domestic business. But the positive here is that we are still receiving requests, believe it or not, for longer-term international business. 

And that's one of the also blessings, so to speak, of our industry is that the business is really long term So those relationships aren't going anywhere Just because right now we can't be there physically.  

And I wanted to make the last point on here and that's there's been a lot of talk of potential air bridges, which would allow for smoother travel Between two countries between the UK and another country with potentially a lower Number of COVID 19 infections, but these air bridges would work both ways, so people could travel to and from the designated countries without having to quarantine on arrival. Now having said that, as of right now, it hasn't been confirmed that when that would potentially take place Or which destinations would be on that list, but the projection in the industry is that it's generally going to start in the UK with European countries, initially, so Watch this space as we learn more. We're also going to update our website and we can always be in touch with anyone who has questions, but that's another interesting thing to follow and see how that's going to develop with the air bridges. 


Cody Liskh 

Yeah, that's such a great idea. And I know that Australia and New Zealand are exploring the idea of having an air bridge and I think everybody is going to be watching that to see how that unfolds and I really hope that the same kind of Like luck happens for the UK.  

I really hope that Brooke and I can come over to the UK again soon we did before we visited our Cvent office in London, and it is like the best time that we've ever had. 

How, how can we ensure that the rest of the world knows that the UK will be open for business Well, also ensuring the safety of guests. I mean what precautions is the UK taking? 


Caroline Phelan 

And, you know, Cody and Brooke approximately 1,500,000 people visit the UK each year alone, just for business events and the US is our top market for both visits and spend. And follow them by France and Germany. So, all in all, it's like a very, very important part of the UK economy and now just last week, we launched the new industry standard for tourism and events businesses. And we've given it a great name. And it's called “we're good to go”. And this standard and supporting label that goes with it essentially means that businesses across the sector can demonstrate that they are adhering to the government and public health guidelines. And have carried out at COVID 19 risk assessment and check that they have the required processes in place. 

And the scheme, we've created is free to join and open to all businesses across the sector. So, if you know whether you be a destination management company hotel or a conference venue You can join. And then so you can probably going to say, well, how do you get this label Caroline, but am in order to receive the label and businesses have to complete a self-assessment Through an online platform called me, www.goodtogouk.co.uk and am on the site is includes a checklist confirming That they have put the necessary processes in place before then receiving the cert, and there would good we're good to go label for perhaps display in their premises, you know, the hotel or venue, etc. Or for their use online and so you know that label has been extremely well received and the CERT 

And we believe that it will provide planners and you know all over the world with the confidence that the event sector in the UK is preparing to safely welcome events back soon taking all the necessary precautions. It's our objective is confidence. 


Brooke Gracey 

That's great to hear. Yeah, really making it easy for everyone to open safely and everybody lets everybody know that it's ready to welcome people back into the businesses. That's a really, really great way to do that. 

And I know you know lately, You guys did a couple of virtual events in June and Cody and I are just dying to hear about how those went and I feel like every time we do a virtual event These days we learned something because we're kind of, you know, Planning without a ton of experience. So, anything any key takeaways that you had from these events that you had in June. 


Leila Heller 

Definitely thanks for this question. BROOKE Yeah, as you said, there are so many learning learnings that really come out of these virtual events. It's unbelievable. Actually, I think we, we would totally approach things in a, in a different way, but also some we could take away from the positive as well. So I'll just share with you what we experienced and Like many others in the industry And as you know, we had to cancel our flagship event “meet GB” which was meant to be actually taking place in Wales This past April, and we were so excited for it. It was the planning was almost completely done 

But unfortunately, because of the situation, we weren't able to actually have it in Wales. So, the current situation, On the other hand, offered us the opportunity to try something new. And try something different. So, over the past few weeks, a few weeks, really It's been two weeks now. We delivered to meet up virtual which went incredibly well. 

We had two days of trade show one day for the North American market So my market. And then one day for Caroline’s market, the European market. And it was a unique situation because virtual events were actually new to all of us on the team. And we were really nervous about it at first We had our hesitations and fears Just like any organization right now would But ultimately, we made that decision to go forward and to offer this to our suppliers and destinations, like so that they can connect with buyers, even if there's A conversation simply to be had and to simply connect because right now we can't fly over and be there. We can't Go on a sales mission or host a group on a fam trip. This was really the perfect solution and the perfect plan B, so to speak to connect those buyers and with our suppliers and also I should point out that we did this in such a short amount of time Which added to the worries, so to speak, pre-event, but at the end of the day, the results, was that we had 300 planners who Attended across the two days of “need to be virtual”. We intended for it to be a more intimate type of event where buyers could meet suppliers through one on one video calls. And then there was also the chat live chat option as well as we see in many virtual events. 

Overall though the planners connected with over 60 UK businesses, via zoom meetings and live chat. So that was really positive for us to see those connections being made.  

One of the things that we noticed is that A great benefit for our attendees that has been appreciated. We've received both cam and me and I have received this feedback is that We have the platform open for 30 days after the event, and this has been really helpful because Those attendees who for some reason they weren't able to meet with all the suppliers. They wanted to or have all of those conversations they wanted to. Now they can Still from the ease of their, you know, office home office just log in and have the same access to those videos and brochures and whatever information contact information of those suppliers that they wanted to meet her for whatever chance for whatever reason they weren't able to so. That was positive we found to keep that platform open, whereas on a live show you have the business cards that you have But it's sometimes hard to get back in there and redo that experience. 

We've definitely identified things that we would do differently. And we could really go on so many things that we've learned, but ultimately we're really happy to say that we were one of the first CVV’s to deliver such a virtual exhibition for the meetings industry during COVID 19 And to be able to do that for both of our respective markets, taking into consideration the time zones and everything like that for North America and for Europe is something that we're really proud of. 


In terms of learnings, I would say the first thing that I would recommend to anyone listening right now and considering doing their virtual event is think clearly about the goal of your event. 

For us, the goal for me to be virtual was education. It was purely meant to be an educational event. We wanted to offer event and meeting planners, a place to brush up on their UK product knowledge with zero strings attached. So in other words, They don't need to have time to fly to the UK, they don't need to invest in anything, all they need to do is log in and connect with these experts who really can't wait to tell them more about their destinations. So I think once you know the goal of your event, then it will be clear which format you want to follow and how you what you'd like to include, and what not to include. And also include breaks that would be another thing that we learned. 

We did include breaks, but I would say be thoughtful about the breaks that you include and how long those breaks are, whether it's thought breaks meditation breaks lunch breaks, you know, all those things, even though it's a virtual show sometimes I've Attended virtual events where those brakes aren't really considered as much because they think, well, everyone's at home, they can just do 

whatever they want and plan their time. But it's nice to have that designated break time. 

And then the other thing that we found was really positive about the virtual event. Is the ability to really follow the buyer location on the tradeshow floor and know exactly where the buyer is so it sounds a little bit big brother But ultimately, you can find out, okay, the buyer this buyer right now is watching the welcome video or Their meeting with XYZ destination partner or they're in the networking lounge. And you can actually follow how much time they spend in each area. So, you really see the interest there. And I wonder why there were 20 minutes They spent on XYZ brand our booth.  

So that's important information I think in the kind of Intel that at a live event. Although I could glance up and maybe notice that a client is speaking to a supplier and think to myself, okay, that's interesting. Like that's good that they're having that conversation. But now, you actually have that data To show you what the interest is and actually show you where you can be of help in our case as a CDB We want to know how we can help. So that's, that's another positive, I would say. 


One of the interesting things that I wanted to share also is one of our partners really shared with us that they would describe the show as a silent disco. And I wanted to share this because it's interesting because silent disco in the sense that you're doing all this activity and having all these chats and conversations But you're really in your own living room Home Office anywhere you are. And it's in that sense, it's interesting because you're by yourself, but you're connected with all these people, so I thought that was an interesting thing. And then the future, we do want to look at different ways to incorporate sound in events. 

I think that'll be an interesting thing to follow in our industry, how to create emotion and tell stories by using sound and I'm actually curious to see how Cvent connect does this because You guys are so great with your events with your live events and it's just interesting to see how that's going to happen that whole experience is going to come alive, for lack of a better word in that virtual space. So, we're looking forward to following that, as well. But those are just a few of the takeaways there are many more. I could go on and on. 


Brooke Gracey 

I think, great. First of all, congratulations on getting an event out the door so quickly. I think it really is a testament to, you know, how well your team works together and just really thinking about your audience. Including sound, It's like it's almost like one of those things where you're like, Oh yeah, that's obvious. But when you actually sit down and think about producing an event It isn't necessarily the first thing you think about. So, I think it's really interesting that you bring that up and it is going to be really cool to see how other events approach that 


Cody Liskh 

Yeah, and I love how you guys talked about what I hear a common theme, figure out what the goal of your event is and then you can tailor your virtual experience to really meet those goals. 

I like what you said too about really concentrating on making sure you have breaks. I can't stress that enough Like, just because you're at home, does not mean that you don't need that break and thinking about a virtual event, almost like a production makes more sense Almost like you're watching the Oscars on TV. They have broken you know every, you know, the 10 minutes or so. 

So, I really liked that you picked up on that. And then the one thing you also said to about data. 

I love that in the virtual environment, you get access to a lot more data that you may not have had access to in a live event. 

So, you can really see how long people have been at certain booths. There are a lot of silver linings to having virtual events. I'm glad that you guys discovered that  


Leila Heller 

We have to look at the positive right 


Cody Liskh 

Exactly. Yeah. And I think that this is kind of alludes to the fact that we aren't going to get rid of virtual events. I think that the future is going to be hybrid events where you have a virtual aspect in addition to the in-person event. 

And I know that we all love in-person events and we are kind of, you know, ready to reopen or like we really want to reopen how, you know, how is the UK looking to other countries in Europe with their reopening strategies for events. 


Caroline Phelan 

Yeah, the UK Government is definitely monitoring of course been other countries' policies and for meetings and events. And but it's also working really closely and with the UK events industry with national bodies such as them business visits and events partnership And the events industry board and to really make sure that the industry's needs are recognized and that the guidance is appropriate for the mice sector. 

And, and, of course, we are very fortunate and that the UK Government has recognized the difference between a business event and a mass gathering in its guidance. 

Because as you know yourselves, they’re not handled the same way at all and a business event is easier to manage around social distancing, etc. And so we're very pleased to have And, you know, the government recognize this difference 


Brooke Gracey 

Yeah, that is really nice. I mean, it is quite a different experience. Cody and I have actually talked about this a little bit too like We want to go out with our friends, but things like when there's alcohol involved the, you know, you may be that makes it a little bit more difficult to stay socially distance, you know, a business event is quite different. So, it's great that there's that distinction 

And of course, we know on the other side of the coin. We have our planners, but also the hoteliers on the hospitality industry has been severely impacted as well. I thought I saw something in the news the other day about, you know, some Hotels will actually have like a seal on the door to your hotel room so you know that it's been cleaned and you know you know that it is safe and what other ways Are you seeing that the hospitality industry is starting to recover. 


Leila Heller 

Yeah, that's a really good question. Brooke, we're seeing this in Multiple ways just like I'm sure we all of us here on this podcast are our listeners as well. 

One of the things that we definitely wanted to share is that the UK hospitality industry is planning on reopening on the Fourth of July. Which are good news and a positive step for the industry that we wanted to share? And of course, it's going to be a step by step process. So, we're very much aware of that and we are following the government guidelines on a daily basis as the situation is evolving. 

But during the pandemic, We've also seen some great agility from the hospitality industry as, as we see hotels, restaurants, and bars Quickly, try to adapt their business to providing new and safe experiences for guests, but with some British tongue in cheek humor dare I say, so I'll give you a few examples. 

There's the San Moritz Hotel in Cornwall. It's in the southwest of England and they announced that they're going to open a social distance hotel restaurant. But the catch is they're calling it the anti-social club. So, the new dine-in concept is going to be 16 private dining rooms and they're going to dine up to 96 guests at a time. So, the key is that the guests are being reassured that they're safe while dining, but they're also having a laugh at the entire concept of being anti-social during these times Because we don't really have a choice. Do we, so that's the kind of tongue in cheek humor that we're seeing a few other examples of these are the popular London bar, Mr. Fox And also another speakeasy CAHOOTS which have come up with inventive and immersive solutions to this and I'll tell you, for example, at Mr. Fox, they're going to be placing Victorian dressed mannequins throughout the bar to fill up some space as a quirky fun way to help with social distancing. Whereas, otherwise the bar would be too packed to be following the guidelines and restrictions and everything like that. So, they may also have staff wearing beekeeping protective head veils as a personal protective equipment option to make sure that the protocol is being followed as well. 


And then just another example is a legendary speakeasy It's called CAHOOTS the bartenders are going to be wearing theatrical masks as their PPE of choice so many interesting and playful social distancing solutions That make that those experiences at restaurants and bars even more immersive and talk about creativity I mean just sparking that sense of escapism and Imagination during this time where we've all been at home. It's going to be really interesting to see these ideas Come out slowly but surely when the time is right.  


I think we could all use some of this sense of humor and lightheartedness as we prepare to slow the return when the time is right. So that's definitely something to look forward to today. We also received Some very motivating news; I would say New Castle our lovely city in the North of England just announced really their plans to build a 216-million-pound convention center. So, we don't know all the details as of yet but these are the sorts of nuggets of positive news that we love to hear During this time, and that really keeps us going. 


Brooke Gracey 

Oh my gosh. That sounds amazing. I love that. That is a really good piece of good news. And I have to say I had a smile on my face the whole time you were talking because those are such unique creative ideas. 

That some of these bars and restaurants are doing to make sure that everyone's social distance and safe. But, you know, kind of in a fun way. I like that. 


Leila Heller 

Yeah, yeah. I can't wait to personally go 


Brooke Gracey 

Me too I know those Victorian dress mannequins to kind of create Space, I think, is such a great idea. 

You guys clearly are very plugged into everything that's happening so many great ideas and suggestions for our audience. 

But it is now time for us to ask the most difficult question, which is if you had to leave our audience with one takeaway or one piece of advice, what would that be and Caroline, let's start with you. 


Caroline Phelan 

And well, I think my piece of advice would am definitely to be keep an open mind and to stay positive.  

And you know that showed with having a virtual show we had an open mind when we brainstormed about this event. So, but the world is in a jittery place right now. But eventually, however, I think things will get better and so most things would return to normal. And those things that maybe will permanently change are all things that we will be able to adapt to, you know, like your virtual hybrid events, etc. 

And the business events world that we work in is always full of challenges. And I think we need to approach this one like we approach other challenges, even if this may be the largest yet and Leila mentioned it earlier on about creativity and we work in such a creative field And coming up with new ideas Is part of what we do best. 


Cody Liskh 

Is there anything you'd like to promote or share with our listeners? 


Caroline Phelan 

Yeah for me, maybe, for starters, do please check out our website, which Leila also mentioned earlier on, for at least updates and from the UK. It's the www.eventsaregreat.com site. 


Leila Heller 




Caroline Phelan 

That's right. And it's also where you can check out our virtual discovery. So, you can visit venues like, you know, Edinburgh, ICC Devon convention center ICC Wales Belfast, Birmingham. 

And I can go on to all of the wonderful conference centers that are available for virtual discoveries 

and then I suppose if you are interested in the European market, or if you need help and bait and you're based in Europe to contact me via my email address and which is [email protected] and not to hesitate to reach out to me, I'd love to hear from you. 


Leila Heller 

Yeah, I would echo that, and definitely, we want to reassure everyone listening that the UK is working hard to safely Welcome back Events very soon. 

But in the meantime, as Caroline mentioned, please feel free to reach out to us. We're here as a resource for you. So feel free to contact us at any time and my email in case anyone needs it is [email protected].  


Cody Liskh 

Perfect. And for our listeners out there. We'll make sure to include all of the event websites and also email addresses in the podcast description. Thank you again. Thank you so much for Being such A great episode. Thank you.