Stuart Hunter about ICE 2023 – Consistency and Customer Centricity Is the Key
Hello, and welcome to CasinoReviews' interview series. We are excited to bring you our next feature, as today we have the pleasure of speaking with the man responsible for the biggest and most successful ICE event yet - Stuart Hunter, Managing Director of Clarion Gaming.
Welcome, Stuart, and thank you for taking the time to speak with CasinoReviews today.
The attendance for ICE 2023 was up by over 60% on April last year - how do you feel about the event's success?
The entire team is obviously delighted at the attendance figure recorded at ICE 2023. The figure set a new record, and the entire show experience appears to have been largely positive. Attendance figures are a key metric by which a show is judged, but it's not the only metric that matters.
Far more important to us as professional event organisers is the quality of the attendance – specifically, were they of the right seniority, did they have decision-making authority, were they from a cross-section of international jurisdictions, and was their interest across gaming sectors? All of these are important questions, the answers to which will determine whether the ICE 2023 show experience for our exhibitors was a positive one or not.
Post-show we always undertake in-depth independent research with our stakeholders, and although that project will not be completed for another month or so, the direct feedback that we have been receiving and reading what our customers have been saying in B2B media suggests that ICE 2023 will be remembered as a key event for many years to come.
What were some of the aspects of this year's ICE that impressed you the most?
This year saw the return of the major suppliers to the land-based sector, with their previous participation taking place at ICE 2020. We have been preparing for their return, and we know how much the big brand names bring to the show experience.
I was delighted that everything went to plan and that they enjoyed such a positive response from the market, with some senior figures describing ICE 2023 as being their best-ever exhibition.
Seeing the industry at its biggest and most creative, occupying every single square millimetre of space at ExCeL, is a career highlight for me personally.
Added to that, everyone was hugely impressed by the at-show features, including the biggest ever Consumer Protection Zone, another fantastic 'ahead of the curve' Esports Arena, the first High Street Hub which we ran in partnership with the Gambling Business Group, Pitch ICE and of course ICE VOX comprising the International Casino Conference, World Regulatory Briefing and the Masterclass programme of industry' deep dives.' VOX sold out for the first time, and the response from speakers and attendees has been superb.
Build-up and breakdown, which carry enormous challenges due to the sheer number of cogs in the wheel, went very well, and I need to acknowledge the real professionalism of the entire ICE Ops team and the hundreds of expert contractors and operational professionals who delivered the biggest ICE to date in what can be a stressful environment.
Of course, with such a vast show, there will always be areas in which we can do better, and we are currently going through a series of hyper-critical debrief sessions to identify the stress points and, in a cool and calm way, explore how we can address them for next year.
As one of my colleagues discussed post-show, the biggest danger for an events brand is complacency. The ICE brand never takes anything for granted, and we realise that we have to earn the custom of every single one of the 40,000+ industry professionals who made ICE 2023 so special.
As the organizer of the largest and most prominent event in the world of gambling and online gaming, what do you find to be the most rewarding and challenging aspects of organizing ICE?
When I assumed the post of Managing Director at Clarion Gaming, I very quickly appreciated how important a successful ICE is to the industry – not just the industry here in the UK or in Europe but to the entire global business. Every day you go to work appreciating that level of responsibility which is a challenge but a challenge everyone at Clarion Gaming, including myself, relishes.
You can only deliver an event of this scale if you have a strong, talented, dedicated, and creative team all driving the project together, and I am blessed to be surrounded by exceptional talent.
In your opinion, what makes ICE stand out from other industry events?
The show was arguably the first in the gambling events space to adopt a brand-led approach, and that has proved to be an extremely progressive strategy.
What it means is that we are able to have conversations with our stakeholders throughout the year, not just in the lead-up to and at the exhibition. It means that we are able to fashion the show in order to meet the needs of the market, which in turn means that we can deliver what our stakeholders require in order to be successful over the short, medium, and long terms.
To complement this philosophy, we have introduced tangible initiatives, including our ICE Ambassadors programme, which comprises a group of international thought leaders who are representative of the sectors that we serve. They act as a sounding board for new initiatives and serve as a source of advice and insight, helping to ensure that ICE remains absolutely relevant to all sections of the international business.
On the same lines, we also work closely with trade bodies such as the European Casino Association and the wider industry via our regular open space symposiums, which we stage throughout the world.
Other stand-out characteristics of ICE are its internationalism – very few live events, and none in the gambling space can come close to attracting attendees from circa 150 nations – the number of gaming verticals represented is unsurpassed, and of course, there's the sheer volume of gambling professionals who look to ICE for inspiration.
The Consumer Protection Zone (CPZ) has become an integral part of ICE, showcasing the latest innovations in customer protection for the past five years. At this year's event, the CPZ helped raise an impressive £52,800 for safer gambling charities. Looking forward, how do you envision the CPZ developing in the future?
You are totally correct in highlighting how important the Consumer Protection Zone has become. The initiative was originally suggested by the UK Gambling Commission, and we were happy to collaborate with the industry to launch the CPZ in 2018. Since then, it has become a real focal point.
Every edition of ICE has grown in size, and we have been able to relocate to a prominent position with high footfall adjacent to the main boulevard at ExCeL.
Safer Gambling underpins virtually every conversation that we have with regulators, manufacturers, content providers, and operators: as such, I can only see the CPZ continuing to expand both physically and in the influence it has.
ICE is known for its extensive line-up of exhibitors and speakers each year. In fact, at ICE 2023, the event welcomed a record-breaking 623 exhibitors from 68 different countries. Can you describe Clarion's process for selecting speakers and exhibitors for the event?
From a speaker perspective, the ICE Content team spends many hundreds of hours researching the most important issues impacting the industry and identifying the right speakers with the required level of expertise to deliver their insight at the show.
We put a lot of resources into this and review how each speaker is received after the event. The vast majority of exhibitors – over 80% - rebooked their stand space for ICE 2024 whilst they were at the show.
When we allocate any space that hasn't been rebooked, as far as is possible, we ensure that we don't have an imbalance of sectors – curating the trade show floor to match the needs of our attendees and to reflect the trends of the industry is an integral part of the science in delivering a successful ICE.
Having attended ICE 2022 for the first time, our team at CasinoReviews.net learned first-hand the importance of wearing comfortable shoes. What other practical advice do you have for first-time attendees of ICE, and how can they best prepare to maximize their experience at the event?
Every event professional eager to impress at their first show has probably made the mistake of not wearing comfortable shoes or, even worse wearing brand-new shoes – which can be an incredibly painful baptism!
When you are attending shows of scale, two things are key. Firstly, give yourself enough time – if it's a three-day event, then use all three days; the opportunities at ICE are too valuable to miss.
Secondly, schedule your meetings in advance. We produced an event interaction and matchmaking tool, which was designed to improve the in-person experience at the show. By using My ICE Gateway, visitors and exhibitors were able to connect, message, and request appointments making the very most of their visit: pre-show, over 6,000 meetings were scheduled using this tool which is mind-blowing!
We all already know that ICE London may no longer be held in its namesake city. Our research indicates that Barcelona and Madrid are the two most likely candidates for hosting the event from 2025. How do you feel about the possibility of moving ICE to a new location, and do you think it's really time for a change?
We have appointed independent experts to undertake this process, and I hope this sends a strong message of our commitment to ensuring ICE continues to meet the needs of the industry. Until the process is complete, there really isn't anything more I can add – apart from the fact that all roads will lead to an even stronger event in the future.
As the Managing Director of Clarion, what are your objectives for ICE? Without revealing too much, what exciting new developments or changes can attendees expect from ICE 2024?
In the events industry, you are only as good as your last show.
Brands such as ICE have to earn the trust of customers every single year. ICE represents a big investment for our stakeholders, and to remain relevant, we have to deliver what they want and need each and every year. Consistency is key, and through a combination of customer centricity, forensic attention to detail, getting the basics absolutely perfect, and delivering big new relevant initiatives to the show floor, we will meet our objective of remaining the number 1 live event for all sectors of the international industry.
A big thank you to Stuart for sharing with us his valuable insights on ICE 2023. It's clear that ICE continues to be the leading global B2B iGaming event, bringing together key figures and facilitating meaningful discussions around the latest trends, technologies, and innovations in the sector. We look forward to seeing how Stuart and his team at Clarion Gaming will continue to innovate and push the boundaries with ICE 2024, and we can't wait to see what new surprises the next edition of the event will bring to the table.