How Comiskey Group pulled off a COVID-safe event for 4,500 people

Taking advantage of massive outdoor spaces, the group has restarted events in a new, COVID-safe manner.

This article was originally published in Australian Hotelier.
Words by Vanessa Cavasinni.

Events have always been big business for Comiskey Group.

“It’s not treated as an auxiliary use, it’s treated as a focus. It’s a whole department of our business. We’ve invested millions and millions of dollars over the years into creating events, but also marketing and running them,” states Comiskey Group director Rob Comiskey.

So much so, that the company owns a $2.4 million stagetruck that “folds out like a Meccano set” for concerts, and nearly $200,000 worth of cash tills. The group puts on an annual program of large-scale concerts, music festivals, rodeos and other family events at Eatons Hill Hotel and Sandstone Point Hotel in Queensland’s Moreton Bay region.

With such a substantial investment in an events program, when they disappeared thanks to COVID, it hurt the group a lot.

Comiskey Group

But with restrictions easing in Queensland as community transmission is kept low, the team decided to give events another go, to see if they could be pulled off in a COVID-Safe manner. With capacity restrictions around the one person per 4sqm rule, Comiskey Group decided to take advantage of its huge plots of land.

“We weren’t prepared to take a lot of risk. We weren’t prepared to go and spend millions of dollars on music line-ups, so we decided to lessen our risk and run with events that would work within restrictions and a lesser volume of people,” explains Comiskey.

They decided to test the waters with Bonfire Night – a family-friendly event that would be easier to crowd control than a music festival. Bonfire Night has been running at Sandstone Point Hotel for the last four years with 9000 people in attendance.

The night’s entertainment is all about fire – think fire dancers, fireworks, fire shows that you would normally see in a stadium – but is centred around the lighting of a two-storey bonfire. There is also a host of food vendors and a marshmallow roasting pit.

Safety first

This year the event would have to look a little different to ensure that the event was compliant with the current health restrictions. With enough land to still host 9000 people for the event under the 4sqm rule, Comiskey decided to cap the event to 4500 people, to ensure that they could pull it off safely. They also line-marked  12sqm areas for families to sit in, to ensure social distancing.

More than 50 sanitising stations were set up, and all food vendors had to undergo COVID training. Where the team knew people were likely to queue, they marked out 1.5m distances to ensure that no one stood too close to each other. Every one of the 4500 people in attendance had to have their name recorded and their temperature checked on entry.

External security and police were also on hand to help with crowd control, and to ensure that guests complied with the state’s restriction that eating and drinking took place while seated. There were also numerous inspections from Queensland Health and OLGR throughout the day.

“There was a lot of work that went into it. It was months and months of work. But we did it successfully.”

Want to keep reading about how Comiskey Group pulled off Bonfire Night? Check out the full article below in our current issue of Australian Hotelier.

Rob Comiskey will be taking part in the upcoming free webinar ‘Party season: How to run functions safely and profitably in 2020.’ The webinar will take place on Thursday 5 November at 10am AESDT. Register here.

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