SAVING THE EVENTS INDUSTRY IN WALES
A cartoon published at the beginning of the Covid-19 shutdown showed a sad looking man standing at the Pearly Gates to heaven.
St Peter is checking the ledger and looks up to the man stating “Says here that you should be in hell but since you were in the events industry during coronavirus, we’ll count that as time served”.
Not the best joke ever but the sentiments are real for anyone working in any events-oriented business during the last five months with social distancing rules having made any conference, business dinner or networking event impossible to undertake.
This hiatus will have had a serious economic impact in the UK given that the overall events industry is estimated to be worth £70 billion in direct spend, accounting for over 50% of the UK visitor economy.
Whilst £39 billion of this comes from leisure (including arts and cultural events, music events and festivals) and sporting events, over £31 billion of the total is actually generated from business events, meetings, conferences, and exhibitions.
In addition, there are over 5 million inbound visits to the UK annually to attend a business event, generating almost 20 million overnight stays and a spend of £3.5 billion every year.
More relevantly, the industry is estimated to employ over 570,000 people although given the banning of live events, most of these individuals have been put on furlough. This means that if the industry does not reopen soon, many are likely to lose their jobs over the next few months.
This not only includes those employed in large venues such as ICC Wales, the Motorpoint Arena and Venue Cymru but also those working in supply chain businesses in sectors such as food production, audio visual production, equipment hire and entertainment, many of whom are self-employed or small businesses.
So what are politicians doing about this situation?
According to the latest guidelines from the UK Government, business events conferences and event centres in England will be given the go ahead to reopen on October 1st. They will need to adhere to social distancing with pilots taking place soon to prepare for a return to large scale events by testing various social distancing practices.
In addition, the Department for Digital Culture, Media and Sport and the Association of Event Organisers have published guidance that will help event organisers, venue operators and participants understand how they can work and host business events and conferences and keep both their guests and staff safe.
However, whilst there is again a clear roadmap for event organisers in England to recommence operations, there seems to be no specific guidance for the industry here in Wales.
Whilst the Welsh events industry came together to present a detailed strategic approach to reopening back in July, there seems to have been little progress by ministers and civil servants in Cardiff bay in responding positively to proposals that specifically focused on the introduction of enhanced safety measures as venues adapted their facilities and protocols to prioritise social distancing.
In particular, all venues would also need to undertake a Covid-19 risk assessment prior to any re-opening, enabling them to create bespoke events that deliver the best possible experience within new safety parameters. Indeed, it is argued that the one metre plus rule currently in operation within restaurants would be far easier to implement given the organised nature of the vast majority of events.
It all seems logical especially when based on best practice, but there has been largely silence on this proposal apart from informal advice that events should instead seek to go online.
Is this acceptable? Whilst other parts of the UK have been given guidelines for a return to business events by the Autumn, there has been almost nothing from the Welsh Government to indicate that similar actions will be taken here in Wales.
As with the delays in reopening the tourism and hospitality industry, there seems to be a lack of understanding of how businesses in the sector operate. Not only does any event needs to have a clear timeline for its preparation and execution but any delay will ensure that other venues across the border which are in competition with those in Wales will gain a competitive advantage if they can open earlier.
It will also undoubtedly have an impact on client and visitor confidence and, more importantly, any further delay could lead to a devastating impact on those hundreds of small businesses that supply the industry, especially at a time when the furlough scheme is ending.
The events industry was the first industry to be affected by the Covid 19 pandemic and, arguably, the one hit hardest over the last five months. It will also be amongst the last to be allowed to return to business given the people-centric nature of its operations.
Whilst other parts of the UK are moving forward with a clear roadmap for reopening the industry, there seems to be a reluctance by Welsh politicians, advisers and civil servants to trust businesses to do everything they can to operate safely within the current regulations.
As a result, Wales is lagging behind despite clear guidance from businesses as to how they will operate safely to protect their employees and clients whilst reopening their businesses.
Let’s hope that as they come back from their annual summer holidays, those in charge of the Welsh economy will ensure that the events industry gets the same hearing that other sectors have had, albeit belatedly, during the last few weeks and it can resume operations as soon as possible.