Back to Business?

As we are entering the third month since widespread COVID-19 restrictions were put in place, the country is slowly starting to open back up. Most businesses are now able to resume trading or can see a pathway back toward trading and have a timeline provided to them. Most businesses, with the exception of my own industry, major events…

In mid March as the true threat of COVID-19 was realised and the resulting public gathering bans began to impact the events industry we had to learn how to live with overwhelming uncertainty. Uncertainty about how the pandemic might impact our world, including our day to day lives, the public health system, as well as our events industry. Overnight, the public gathering bans caused massive impact in the live event industry, including sport where we operate, meaning that thousands of workers were suddenly without income for the foreseeable future. Event after event was cancelled and so too the contracts that many of the industry’s ‘gig workers’ rely upon. Our own event portfolio was not immune.

Despite the impact to my business and the events industry as a whole I was, and continue to remain, supportive of efforts to curb the spread of this virus. I published a statement at the time highlighting the importance of caution while also acknowledging the impact on all of us in the event management space. We, like many businesses, found ourselves in a challenging predicament and were forced into making quick and very difficult decisions. We also wanted to reach out to those affected to say “you are not alone”.

From a public health perspective, I am proud of our response as a nation and how well we have managed the situation across our state and federal governments. I am proud of how we have ultimately helped our health sector. Any comments or observations I offer in relation to how urgent the situation is for the ‘live events’ industry, are made through the lens of public health, and I acknowledge the huge gains achieved by ‘lockdown’ and public gathering bans.

However the events industry continues to stare down that continued uncertainty. Specifically, mass participation and live sport, does not feature in the federal government’s framework for easing restrictions, even at step 3. As a result it is hard to predict when the green light will be given for our core business: large scale events. Because of this uncertainty, we continue to have clients cancel and consider cancelling events. We were even forced to cancel our own event, Race the Train, last week. Beyond the ‘work from home’ instructions, many event management offices will look like this for months to come….

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 In this time of uncertainty it is vital that the events industry draws on our shared experience and work to support one another. The experience most of us can relate to most strongly is the abrupt disruption to our business. The revenue that has dried up overnight, for us as event organisers, but also the many suppliers, sole traders and freelancers that we do business with. This all translates to people out of work.

But there are actions the government can take to help save our industry. I have recently written to both the Federal and the Victorian State ministers for tourism proposing an action plan. However the more people who put forward our case the stronger it is, so I would encourage all event professionals to write to their relevant members.

1. Safety & Survival
a) We need the Federal Government JobKeeper program (or alternative targeted support) to
extend beyond September. It is crucial.
b) Small businesses employed and deployed by government funding, should
be supported despite there being uncertainty around an event proceeding.
c) Explore ways to re-deploy event management expertise on other Government projects, which demand project planning, logistics, risk management and operational expertise.

2. Investment in the Future
A dedicated and targeted major events fund should be designed and established, to
encourage businesses and governments to invest in new events and continue investing in
existing events, to ultimately assist with the recovery of the tourism industry.

3. Commercial Tenancy provisions
Additional commercial tenancy provisions allowing businesses without a ‘back to business’
timeline, who are unable to operate due to COVID-19 to exit commercial tenancies without
penalty. Alternatively, an extended commercial tenancy relief scheme should be instituted.

4. Green Light Plan
A roadmap to the ‘green light’. At the moment there is not a defined date, advising that
events like ours can’t be held, let alone an indication on ‘back to business’. Making a
distinction between the various events (indoor v outdoor, size of gathering, traceable
participation vs spectator based) will be important as part of this process. Event industry
expertise can assist with this.

We are in a unique category, which does not have any sense of roadmap, guidelines or timeline to work towards, through no fault of our own. Our core products and services cannot be deployed. When will we be ‘back to business’?

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