23rd July 2007

I don’t think I’ll bother

The UK’s increasingly fraught transport infrastructure can only have a negative effect on events says John Spain

Last week I had to get to an important meeting in South Wales which comprised a healthy number of events industry figures with who it would be good to spend a few hours.
The train timetable revealed that two trains would get me there. The first set off from London at half five in the morning which meant that, even if I had been able to get to Paddington in time for departure, I would have been there with four hours to kill before the meeting. The second train got me there with around half an hour to spare, too little time, I thought, if there was a delay en route.
This is not to mention the extraordinary price I was quoted for the trip. Fair enough, if I’d bought the ticket a few weeks earlier I would probably have only paid 20 to 30 pounds. As it was, I could probably have flown most of the way to New York for the price they were asking to transport me a couple of hundred miles in my own country.
On the appointed morning I set off in my car in plenty of time to have a leisurely saunter down to Wales. Everything went well for the first half an hour but after only a few miles on the M25 we all came to a halt. There had been a serious accident less than a mile ahead which necessitated the closure of our side of the motorway for the next three hours.
So that was that, once the road was re-opened there was no point going to the meeting and I just turned off at the next junction and came home.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining about the accident, I certainly would have preferred to sit on the M25 for three hours rather than being one of the poor people who had to be cut out of their vehicles by the Fire Brigade and taken to hospital by air ambulance. I hope they are making a good recovery.
The fact remains, however, that you only have to listen to the traffic reports on the radio every morning to know that lengthy hold-ups are a daily occurrence on the UK motorway system either because of accidents, road works or ‘sheer weight of traffic’. It prompts me to ask the question, is there any point in using the M8 in Glasgow, M42 in Birmingham, the M25, M62 between Leeds and Huddersfield, or any number of others roads, during rush hour unless it was absolutely necessary?
The key phrase here is ‘absolutely necessary’. It is my contention that going to conferences, exhibitions, special events, product launches and all manner of other business and, indeed, consumer meetings and events will soon become unnecessary. That’s assuming, of course, that they aren’t already a chore that most people would rather do without.
As I drove back last week I passed the seemingly endless line of cars that still hadn’t moved and looked at the hundreds, probably thousands, of people who had been held up. I wonder how many millions of pounds were either wasted or lost that morning because people were unable to get to work or meetings.
If exhibition and conference attendance has dropped as radically as many in the industry say it has over the last ten years I’m sure a major contributing factor is the difficulty people experience in getting to them. Certainly the internet and email have played their part but I’m sure that this is because a large number of people have been driven to using them simply because they appear to represent a more efficient use of time that sitting in a train or car that’s going nowhere fast.
All of us in the industry are agreed upon ‘the awesome power of live events’, there is no better way of meeting people and of shaking hands than at an exhibition or conference. But, if people aren’t of a mind to give this a go because of mounting transport difficulties we’re all in big trouble.