Our guest today, Nigel Essam, runs a known event company, Red Eye Events, one of the biggest providers of secondary hospitality over the Monaco GP, hosting 1200 people, including royalty on trackside yachts over the weekend.
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Nigel started this company after attending Monaco as a guest and seeing there was the opportunity to do things better, so he chartered a boat the next year and grew it from there despite having no contacts at the start – so it’s quite an exciting story! But today, he’s here to talk to the Paddock magazine as the Commercial Director of Guestia, an exciting new venture. And we’re more than thrilled to have him answer a few honest questions.
Nigel, how would you briefly describe Guestia to a person who hasn’t heard of it yet?
Guestia is an event and travel app that transforms how organisers manage and communicate with guests by taking all event information online. It provides a tech solution for sponsors, sports teams, and agencies who want to give guests all their personalised event and travel information in one app, rather than emailing and printing off endless guest packs and itineraries. McLaren currently uses the app for their race team travel, which means any changes can be updated in real-time and communication can happen instantly, through notifications, alerts or messaging. All of this saves a lot of paper.
It has certainly been much better since the new owners came in, and I’m sure they’ll keep finding new ways to provide access and insight for guests and fans at races as things open back up again.
Sounds good! Tell us about the recent Eddie Jordan investment and what this means to the business.
It’s fantastic to have Eddie involved in Guestia. As soon as he saw our system’s capabilities, being a former team owner, he immediately saw the potential of it to streamline Formula 1 team travel, as it’s still being done in a bit of an old-fashioned way. Then he discovered how the guest side of things could be improved; therefore, it’s great to have that validation from someone who knows the sport so well. His backing means a lot to us, along with his respected vote of confidence in the business, but also, it’s indeed beneficial to have the vast amount of knowledge he brings. While he’s not specifically tech-focused, his broad business background is simply fantastic. Eddie’s on our advisory board, so he’s always got great advice. He methodically looks at things and usually comes up with the correct answer so quickly! His involvement will help grow our business both in and outside of Formula 1.
What about the fun factor of your work with Guestia?
I’m fortunate because I get to go to many lovely places for work, and the best thing about working in events and hospitality is that you’re constantly surrounded by people having a perfect time. There’s always a nice buzz. With Guestia, I also enjoy the networking that comes with my role. I like meeting people, chatting to them, and it’s delightful when you have a product you believe in that people can immediately see the value of and are impressed by. I’ve also really liked bringing big brands on board and seeing them use the app. That’s pretty fun!
Eddie’s backing means a lot to us, along with his respected vote of confidence in the business, but also, it’s indeed instrumental in having the vast amount of knowledge he brings.
If you’re sincere, is it hard to introduce innovation and creativity in this sector?
Formula 1 is probably the most technologically advanced sport globally, so innovation is undoubtedly in its DNA. However, I think sometimes, especially in the off-track functions, there can be a slower pace of change. It is such a contrast when you’ve got incredible hospitality offerings with innovative experiences, fantastic food and luxury accommodation. However, guests are still being sent all the information via a pdf document, or teams are sending out travel arrangements in one massive spreadsheet.
I think partly the reason for this is the length of the season, so there is a tiny window of time to implement new systems, and that’s driven a lot of our development. We saw early on that we needed to create a system where instead of a massive change for a business-critical system like the team travel, it would need to be small steps of change. So, Guestia can be introduced incrementally over time, and McLaren has undoubtedly benefited from that rather than having to have a massive overhaul all at once.
So could Formula 1 learn from other racing series from a travel/event perspective?
Formula 1 does things so well that it really might be the pinnacle. Teams are travelling worldwide with fantastic hospitality and fan experiences. They even managed to conduct a season during a pandemic, so there’s not much they can learn to organise significant events. Perhaps the only thing I’d say, from my experience, is that they could maybe implement more tech solutions operationally for travel and events to streamline and improve things further. Additionally, at many motorbike series, the average hospitality guest gets access to the paddock and the pits, and not everyone can do that in Formula 1. I get that it is a tricky balance to strike between access and exclusivity, but historically our sport has been very elite. It has undoubtedly been much better since the new owners came in, and I’m sure they’ll keep finding new ways to provide access and insight for guests and fans at races as things open back up again.
It is such a contrast when you’ve got incredible hospitality offerings with innovative experiences, amazing food and luxury accommodation, but guests are still being sent all the information via a pdf document or teams are sending out travel arrangements in one massive spreadsheet.
If you can, please share your near-future vision for Formula 1’s lifestyle sector.
I think virtual events are here to stay, even once in-person hospitality is entirely back because it’s simply another hospitality option. It gives the flexibility to open up experiences to a broader audience around the world. The other thing I think we’ll see is the continual elevation of every aspect of the guest experience. For example, with my events company, we introduced Tom Kerridge to our hospitality facilities in 2019 to take our food to the next level. Hospitality fans, especially from the UK, have very high expectations of the food served at events, and why shouldn’t they?
Someone paying thousands of pounds for a weekend shouldn’t be served average food. They should have the best food of their lives. That’s what we’re aiming to deliver and what Tom does is just, to put it plainly, phenomenal. So yeah, I think improving every aspect of the experience will continue. Hence, guests feel special, whether that’s the food and beverages, the access they’re given or like with Guestia, the communication before and during the event.