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Pivoting our business in the wake of a pandemic

Posted 23rd Sep, 2020

Oonagh O'Reilly

Oonagh O'Reilly Director of Sales and Marketing

When faced with a global pandemic earlier this year, we found ourselves navigating our way in an industry that has been disrupted to an unprecedented level. Our immediate priority was keeping safe, staying connected with our people and ensuring the long-term sustainability of ICC Belfast and our sister brands, Waterfront Hall and Ulster Hall.

Our response to COVID-19 was rapid and we took immediate action. We provided regular and transparent communication to our team, clients and customers via multiple platforms including telephone calls, newsletters, virtual townhalls and of course video calls.

We provided regular and transparent communication to our team, clients and customers.

We have dedicated this time to business preparedness and bouncing back better so that we will be galvanised to play our part in kickstarting business tourism and live entertainment again across Belfast and Northern Ireland. We do this to benefit everyone – socially, culturally and economically.

Never has it been more important to work as one team and own shared goals. This has been evident in the incredible work executed by our team, along with Visit Belfast and all our partners across the city to reschedule conferencing events.

“I am delighted that with the support of Belfast City Council, Tourism Northern Ireland and Visit Belfast, we have secured five major conferences since the beginning of April with an estimated economic impact of £6.5M for future years.”

Our team pride themselves on adopting a solution-based methodology for event management and inheriting client KPIs as their own. We consulted with clients who have upcoming events in ICC Belfast and addressed their concerns head on. Our team developed bespoke ‘Survival Kits’. The objective was to stand by our clients when they needed us most and to safeguard the economic impact from these events.

We took the time to delve into the key conference objectives and provide expert advice and practical support from the ICC Belfast team in the areas of account management, logistics, technical production and marketing communications. This proactivity resulted in a small minority of bookings cancelling, with 99% choosing instead to defer their events to future dates.

We took the time to delve into the key conference objectives and provide expert advice and practical support from the ICC Belfast team

Although the buzz and atmosphere of a live event is inimitable, engaging virtual delegates and providing them with an authentic experience of the conference destination is possible. We launched the purpose-built ICC Belfast Hybrid Studio in June 2020. Our latest innovation offers organisers the flexibility of hosting guests both in-house and virtually, as well as the ability to communicate key messages via a branded platform. By investing in enhanced technology and software, delegates are able to interact with live sessions by asking questions and taking part in polls. Speakers can deliver keynotes and contribute to panel discussions directly from the Hybrid Studio as well as from their remote bases.

Read the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry World Class Leadership Live case study

With Belfast City Council’s incredible support, we have been able to focus on driving national and international conference business since our transition to a commercial entity in 2016. This remains crucial to our success and to the economic development of the city as a whole. Our close working relationship has afforded us the opportunity to successfully pivot and start hosting virtual events in our purpose-built Hybrid Studio.

In the last four months alone we have hosted virtual conferences, product launches and award ceremonies. We are looking forward to hosting the Soroptimist International Great Britain and Ireland Conference on 29th - 31st October 2020 for their first ever virtual conference.

As the industry shows early signs of recovery, our goal is to deliver world-class events that are hybrid by design and at which every delegate has a multi-sensory experience that is truly unique to Belfast and Northern Ireland.

We are extremely proud to have been the only venue outside London shortlisted in the ‘Most Innovative and Tech-friendly Venue’ category at the prestigious Event Technology Awards. This is testament to our ‘one team’ approach to business preparedness and commitment to delivering hybrid event experiences like no other. Integrating event technology into our offering is a priority for our team. Clients' needs are evolving and as Northern Ireland's only purpose-built international convention centre, we want to remain at the forefront of innovation to ensure that expectations are not only met but exceeded. The entire teams’ hard work over the past twelve months has not gone unnoticed, we’ve also been shortlisted for Best Venue in the C&IT awards and Best Conference Venue in the Conference Awards 2020 and the CIPD Northern Ireland Awards in the Best Change Management Initiative.

Our iconic sister brands Waterfront Hall and Ulster Hall typically welcome over 350,000 patrons through the doors every year to enjoy a wide variety of world-class entertainment. The entertainment and live events industry are in a perilous position as our doors remain closed and social distancing measures remain in place. Our team has worked extremely hard to reschedule over 80% of gigs due to take place in the Waterfront Hall and Ulster Hall this year to 2021 and beyond. Small glimmers of hope shine through now that the Waterfront Hall’s Main Auditorium is alive once again with the sound of the Ulster Orchestra as they rehearse in a safe and socially distanced setting. Our entertainments team has also taken this time to develop the ticketing system to enhance customers’ online experiences. We have also been working with our industry peers across Northern Ireland and throughout the UK as part of the We Make Events campaign and will continue to do so.

We have been campaigning at the highest level for support in our industry. Julia Corkey, CEO of ICC Belfast | Waterfront Hall | Ulster Hall has been actively involved in the hospitality response group since joining the organisation in July. Since March 2020, the senior management team have joined various groups to contribute to the recovery of live events and the business tourism industry. Our industry was one of the first to close and will be one of the last to reopen - we cannot let its importance be understated.

Business and entertainment events will return, and we’re determined to build back better than ever. No technology can fully replace a genuine emotional connection and we look forward to playing our part in once again hosting citywide events like no other when the time is right.

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