Nightingale site boss: Start booking events again

Boss of London exhibition centre turned into Nightingale hospital is urging firms to start booking events again

The boss of the giant London exhibition centre that was turned into a Nightingale hospital is urging firms to start booking events again.

In an indication that NHS bosses and business leaders no longer fear another Covid spike, ExCeL chief executive Jeremy Rees said he is preparing to ramp up from one-day events capped at 1,000 people to the venue’s 30,000 capacity from April. 

A cut above: A hairdressing show at ExCeL, which became a Nightingale hospital

He said the vaccine rollout and improvements in testing ‘are increasing confidence we can deliver safe and secure events next year’. The ExCeL – owned by the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre – has cancelled 250 events since March costing it ‘tens of millions’ in revenue. 

It is still using 10 per cent of its space to store equipment in case the NHS Nightingale hospital – which opened in April before being mothballed weeks later – is needed again. That space could also be used for a vaccination centre if required. 

The events industry, which employs more than 1.5 million people, is tomorrow launching a campaign called We Create Experience to reassure firms that major events will be safe to attend next year – and to highlight their economic importance to the UK. Business events are estimated to generate £165billion in trade a year. 

Rees said ExCeL’s big events, such as trade fairs for Amazon, Adobe and Google, have a three to five-month lead time, so planning needs to start now to host events in the spring.