The delay to the final stage of easing Covid restrictions in England has led to concerns that client confidence to book and confirm business events will yet again be hit, while International Confex is among the first of many events expected to be postponed as a result of the announcement.
In a press conference on Monday, Boris Johnson confirmed there will be a four-week delay to the much-anticipated Step 4 of the Covid recovery roadmap in England, which was due to see the easing of all final restrictions and end of social distancing next week (21 June).
Step 4 has been pushed back to 19 July to allow all adults in the UK over the age of 18 to receive their first vaccination to combat the Delta variant. This means that capacity limits for sports, pubs and cinemas will remain, and nightclubs will stay closed. Weddings will now be allowed to go ahead with more than 30 guests, but venues will have to adhere to other rules such as social distancing. Johnson also confirmed pilot events will continue, such as the UEFA Euro 2020 and some theatrical performances.
Step 3 rules will still apply for business events, which allow 1,000 people (or 50% of venue capacity) to meet indoors with Covid mitigation measures in place, such as masks and social distancing, and 4,000-person events (or 50% capacity) outdoors.
Industry leaders and associations have expressed concerns over the impact this latest delay will have on client confidence, which is already low.
Juliet Price, Consultant Executive Director of HBAA, said: “This postponement is delaying the confirmation of hundreds of meetings and event bookings. Research carried out by Venue Performance for HBAA indicates that the average revenue expected between 21 June and the end of September for a London meetings and events venue is £500,000.
“Speaking to HBAA members and contacts across the industry, we are being told that many event planners are waiting for the remaining restrictions to be lifted before they will sign contracts. This continued uncertainty is adding further pressure on their ability to plan their resources and finances.”
“While everyone’s health and safety are our highest priority, these constant adjustments for planning purposes aren’t helpful. Thousands of businesses with planned re-openings or event deliveries in July will once again be knocked back and incurring losses and terrible disruption. People looking to re-commence employment will once again be devastated,” said Ian Cummings, Global VP, Commercial, CWT Meetings & Events.
“I think many are “done” with lockdowns and with cases in hospitals at less than 1000, down from nearly 40,000 in Jan, and the huge vaccine roll out that has happened – many are left scratching their heads with this final delay. As Theresa May recently advised in the Commons – we need to learn to live with Covid and new variants, we need to trust the vaccine program and we need travel and events to start happening again.”
Dale Parmenter, CEO, DRPG, said: “The announcement just adds to the continued uncertainty. We don’t have any live events until September and those seem to be okay. However, we are getting clients wanting to run face to face events in the final quarter, but just not confirming. Last week we had a record number of enquiries, which is great, but they need to commit, and news of delays doesn’t help in creating the confidence to book.”
The Meetings Industry Association (mia) said it understands the necessity for the government to delay the move to Step 4. “Our view is that it is better to delay for four weeks rather than have an unsettling re-trenching further down the line – as has happened with the travel corridors that has seen countries such as Portugal being moved to the amber travel list with very little warning,” said Jane Longhurst, chief executive of the mia.
“The ongoing issue being faced by our industry is confidence to book and commit to contracting events. We fully appreciate that any delay continues to fuel that uncertainty and is potentially going to damage confidence even further.”
Calls to extend furlough for sector
The delay has led to calls for an extension to the government’s financial support schemes, which are due to end on 30 June.
“The Chancellor must treat meetings, events and accommodation sector businesses as a special exception and immediately extend the 80 per cent furlough payment and business rates reduction until at least the end of July. Businesses in the sector need this to help them survive the four-week delay in reopening,” said HBAA’s Price.
“HBAA is continuing to shine a light on our industry by highlighting what is a vital and unique cash flow issue. Unlike bars, restaurants and many other hospitality businesses that will immediately have extra cash in their tills as soon as they are fully open, many agencies and venues will have very little income until September or beyond before clients pay their invoices – but before then they will have to pay rent, rates and salaries for staff organising meetings and events. This comes on top of many months of delayed income from postponements and cancellations.
“Very few, if any other sectors, face this financial issue. An extension to the 80 per cent furlough payment and continued business rates relief would, for many, make a crucial difference to their survival for another month and beyond.”
On Monday, the organisers of International Confex, Mash Media, confirmed that the event has been postponed to early September 2021, where it will run at ExCeL London. The show was due to take place next week from 22-23 June.
The show’s organisers said in a statement: “As you know we have been rallying hard to run International Confex 2021 as soon as possible within safety considerations. While we are logistically ready to run in a variety of formats and we take our responsibility as being the first event out extremely seriously, we take our responsibility to all our stakeholders even more so, and as we cannot guarantee the event the exhibitors deserve and that all the visitors from the entire MICE industry wants, we have decided to delay the event by a few weeks more. Our new dates 1-2 September 2021 will still allow us to be one of the vanguards in pushing forward with live events and kicks off the autumn season of the event calendar with renewed confidence for all stakeholders.”