This week, we’re handing over our guest blog to Jo from ACE Bookings to hear her honest account on life as a Venue Finder during the Covid_19 crisis…
I am sure I speak for many agencies both large and small, but I am particularly representing the smaller agencies right now.
ACE Bookings are a small family run team of 4 and we are prominently Venue Finders. During the first week of the coronavirus crisis, the team spent many hours cancelling well over a hundred bookings, initially up until the end of May and then June soon followed.
I am sure like everyone else, we were just not prepared for what was about to happen to our industry. In some ways I feel we, as an agency, are lucky in that we have a large amount of business which is spread across the year. Many of the bookings are small meetings with just a few large ones.
The proportion of losses, so far for the 3 months of cancellations, will be fairly equal according to the business we have confirmed throughout the year. If we were dependent on just 3 or 4 larger events a year with a couple of them running over the last few months then I know, without a doubt, our business would have suffered terribly.
It really depends on how long this crisis goes on for as to how we might come out of this, we have many confirmed bookings in July and August which have not yet been cancelled. The worrying thing is that right now nobody knows how long it will last for and how we will be affected. I am taking it week by week and without sounding too negative, I know we will have more cancellations to come firstly for July and then possibly August, and who knows from there on in.
ACE were on schedule for a bumper year in 2020 and presently with the cancellations we have made so far, we are on a par with our 2019 turnover. If it stays this way I will be more than happy,but I am starting to think it is going to drop somewhat lower. I feel the pain for the hotels every time we send an email to cancel a booking, in the initial stages of the cancellations many venues would do their best to try and cancel without charge and many offering a date change for later in the year without charges. Others felt they needed to charge whatever the case.
Once the lockdown was announced all bookings were cancelled without charge, as the venues themselves were not open and could not offer the clients the space even if they wanted to. The flexibility of how venues have worked with us will certainly bear many of them in good stead for future new enquiries. We have to get the best possible outcome for our clients as they are the ones who have given us the business, so ultimately they will come back to us as they know we have tried our utmost for them, even if it means a loss in commission for us as an agent.
The ACE Team were furloughed early on, as once the initial bulk of cancellations were done there was literally nothing else for them to do. I myself have continued to work, our clients still need support and the venues still need answers on the rebooking of dates and possible cancellations as we now look into July and August business.
I have spent many hours chasing commission as it was paramount to ensure we have some cash flow! Sales Managers put in hours of time building up great relationships with agencies, only to be let down at the final hurdle. When payment of commission is delayed, often they are not aware of this.
Each day at work brings a different challenge, today was a great day as I have had 4 new large enquiries for Europe and the UK for March 2021 and 3 new smaller enquiries for the UK, which if the availability is there then they should go ahead. My clients are desperate to start booking again, particularly for the larger events and already for Q1 – we have been struggling securing some dates for February. However compared to our normal working days, it is very quiet and plenty of time to go out for that ‘one walk a day’.
Many of our clients have been furloughed but generally there is at least one team member who I am in contact with from each of the companies I book on behalf of. As soon as things start to pick up I am confident that all my contacts will be back at work and eager to book and attend their training/meetings which they’ve had to cancel. It is just the uncertainty of knowing when that may be which is taking its toll on many of us.
I saw a lovely quote the other day from Albert Einstein and I feel this represents our team so well: ”Try not to become a person of success, but try to become a person of value.” I know the team are extremely valuable to our clients and because of that, and the more successful we have become over the years, it has meant that our business has grown from recommendation and not from selling. This is why I know we will get through this, we do an excellent job and have extremely loyal clients.
The past couple of weeks have been challenging to say the least. Getting in touch with a contact at venues is proving difficult, whether it be for new dates or cancellations. I have resorted to emails rather than calling, and if I get a bounce back then I follow up again and hope that I get a response. I do feel that if venues are not careful they will miss out on new enquiries and need to try and ensure that they have someone manning their phones and inboxes as much as possible.
The industry is obviously going to take a long time to recover, and I feel that smaller meetings of 10 or less people may continue to take place over zoom or similar online methods of communication. However, personally I feel you can never replace face to face meetings particularly for large events and training. For me, this is the only way to continue to get the best outcome for the delegates.
I think after all this is over and we can meet safely again, everyone will embrace face to face meetings and hopefully bookings will go through the roof with venues and agencies once again able to be doing what they do best.
We will survive and we will get through this together, we are like a family. It is such a fabulous industry to work in and we all want each other to succeed through these tough times. Keep safe!