Senior figures in the events industry have shared their anger, disappointment and concern over the announcement that conferences and exhibitions will not be allowed to run from 1 October as part of a new raft of COVID-19 restrictions.
Addressing the House of Commons, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: “We must acknowledge that the spread of the virus is affecting our ability to reopen business conferences and exhibitions and large sporting events, we will not be able to do this from 1 October.”
The new measures, which also include a 10pm curfew and table service only in pubs and restaurants in England and updated guidance over the wearing of face masks, are expected to last for up to six months as the COVID alert level is upgraded from three to four. Business events for up to 30 are still allowed in COVID-secure venues, however the total of 30 covers everyone involved in the event, including any venue or organiser staff in the same room.
Lex Butler, Chair of HBAA and Jane Longhurst, chief executive of the mia, both said the announcement further decimated the UK’s business events sector.
“Many of our agency and venue members have gone beyond or are at tipping point; they have had to make redundancies, they are unsure if their businesses can survive, many haven’t had any income for over six months. Financial reserves and overdrafts are exhausted, and this news will regrettably accelerate the inevitable,” said Butler.
“Whilst HBAA fully appreciates and supports the need for these tighter measures in the interests of the country’s fight back against the spread of COVID-19, we must receive substantial financial support without delay. We continue to campaign and lobby for additional financial support specifically for our sector, and we have to see action now if our businesses, and the industry, are to survive.”
“Hung out to dry”
Longhurst described the news as a “devastating blow” and said that without a clear re-opening date and no clear idea if there is going to be any support forthcoming, the events industry has “simply been hung out to dry”.
“Organisers I have no doubt will already be cancelling their events for the next six months, which means a repeat of the cash-flow drain, experienced by venues and booking agents in the Spring. When we finally get the go ahead to re-open, it is going to take many, many months to rebuild booker confidence and many years to see any form of recovery.
“Venues have been tirelessly coordinating and implementing now redundant government plans, investing heavily depleted financial resources to ensure they have all the necessary requirements in place to ensure they are COVID-Secure, and with today’s announcement we are simply not being respected – in fact it’s much worse than that – we have been simply ignored. The Prime Minister thought it much more relevant to comment about the lack of spectator sport than he did the thousands of jobs across the UK that are reliant on the business meetings and event sector.”
CWT Meetings & Events Global VP Commercial Ian Cummings said that this will again knock customer confidence to book meetings. “The good news is we can still meet in groups up to 30 so we should work with what we can do. All suppliers I have spoken with can provide safe facilities, great (socially distanced) experiences and we need to encourage the industry to keep moving forward working within the parameters and guidelines. It’s clear that the meetings industry needs more recognition and government support. I think the potential for another six months of minimal progress is very hard for our industry to digest. I think this announcement has caused a second deeper wave of reflection and what it will mean financially for many businesses and jobs.”
Peter Jackson, director at agency red e2 Limited added: “This decision today trashes the hopes of tens of thousands of event professionals a great many of whom will lose their livelihoods, a great many permanently. I have no idea of how we can recover without rapid and extensive government intervention to support this highly creative industry that adds billions to the economy.”
Rick Stainton, executive group director at creative agency Smyle, who is working with Hughes on the One Industry One Voice initiative, said the need for a co-ordinated approach across all the core sectors of the £84bn events industry is now even more important.
“Timing was always key – it’s become increasingly clear that One Industry One Voice’s positive campaign #wecreateexperiences to educate, inspire and reassure, is now about buyers briefing and audiences attending events into 2021. Our campaign needs to speak to both our business and public audiences in a progressive approach, addressing the different communities with adapted messaging – OIOV always strategically recognised that the key to success was being primed and ready to activate but flexible on timing due to external factors and national sentiment,” said Stainton.
“So what was likely to be a big hit around 1st October may now have to be planned using key milestones for content and engagement with a longer lead up across a number of weeks and momentum building into November. Remember the Wedding industry never had 1st October as a date to open up to larger numbers and the live music and festival sector still doesn’t have a start date to activate fully. This means that more than ever before everyone in our sector is in the same really challenging place, where the need for One Industry, One Voice becomes even more critical.”