Business events industry bodies have called for calm among the industry, saying it’s “business as usual” at this stage despite growing concern around COVID-19.
Speaking to Spice News on 11 March, Meetings & Events Australia (MEA) CEO Robyn Johnson said while COVID-19 is having an undeniable impact on the business events industry, there is no need to cancel meetings and events in Australia.
“It’s having a massive impact on the industry and a lot of people are feeling very vulnerable,” she said.
“The way we’re looking at it, we’re carrying on as normal, [it’s] business as usual. Unless we’re told ‘no more mass gatherings’, we are continuing on as usual.”
The Exhibition and Event Association of Australasia (EEAA) is promoting a similar sentiment, with chief executive Claudia Sagripanti telling Spice News on 11 March business events “can and should continue” until we receive advice otherwise.
“We are well aware that things are changing almost daily, if not hourly, and we’re keeping a very close eye on those announcements,” she said.
“But the advice that we have from government and the advice that we are giving to our members is that it’s business as usual as much as possible and that shows should continue.”
Earlier this week, EEAA called on the government to elevate the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee’s message that there is no reason to cancel or postpone events at this time.
“There is no reason not to attend events,” said Sagripanti.
“The EEAA wants to ensure there’s accurate and timely information that is released to the sector. There has been a lot of inconsistency across federal and state governments and a number of corporates are applying rules from overseas, so we feel it’s important to request a consistent message.”
Cancellations must be put into perspective
International Convention Centre Sydney (ICC Sydney) is among a number of major venues across Australia feeling the impacts of COVID-19, with events such as Amazon’s AWS Summit Sydney being cancelled, and others postponed.
ICC Sydney CEO Geoff Donaghy said it’s important to put these cancellations into “statistical context”.
When Donaghy spoke to Spice News on 6 March, the venue had only three cancellations, one being the Salesforce World Tour conference that was converted to a digital format with ICC Sydney’s assistance.
“The number of events we’re talking about compared to the 70 we’re running this month, and the more than a hundred or so that are running in the following two months need to be put into context,” he said.
“We’ve run seven or eight events this week, with over 60,000 people attending, so what’s happening doesn’t represent anywhere near the majority of events at this stage – it’s important to put that into context.”
A number of major events are taking place across Australia this week, including Tourism Australia’s Destination Australia conference in Adelaide and the Australasian Oil & Gas (AOG) Exhibition & Conference in Perth.
A huge room of tourism industry professionals gathered in Adelaide to discuss ‘Resilience & Recovery’ led by @Birmo, Minster for Trade, Tourism and Investment. #DestAus20 #eventherethisyear #holidayherethisyear pic.twitter.com/D6dmJBpvRX
— Andrew Hiebl (@Hiebl) March 11, 2020
Implications for cancelling or postponing
Each venue’s policy for event cancellations or postponements may be different, so it’s advised to contact them directly.
ICC Sydney is advising clients to check in with them regarding their events, but at this stage Donaghy said there’s no reason why local or domestic events shouldn’t go ahead.
For the small number of events that are reconsidering, he said the venue is “endeavouring to balance what the clear contractual obligations are with a need to keep that business in the future and to keep long-term relationships with clients”.
Sydney hospitality group The Venues Collection is also receiving requests to reschedule and cancel events. As a result, the company, which operates seven venues including 12-Micron and Campbell’s Stores, has relaxed its booking terms to allow clients to reschedule events later in the year.
“The message to our clients is quite simple,” said director of marketing and communications Joyce DiMascio.
“We will work with our clients should they feel the need or should they have a policy requirement to reschedule their event.
“However, at present the chief medical officer in Australia hasn’t issued an instruction for people not to attend meetings.
“We haven’t had that as a directive from anyone and until we do, our goal is to work with clients to do all that we can to help them go ahead with their events, either in the short term or in the medium term.”
More on COVID-19
Redesign before rescheduling
Live events agency INVNT has also seen the impact of COVID-19 is having on the industry, but says now is “not the right time to panic”.
“As an industry we need to band together and adopt a cautious approach, and also really encourage our clients not to just cancel their events altogether but instead devise creatively led alternatives,” Laura Roberts, managing director at INVNT APAC, told Spice News.
The agency is currently looking at a number of solutions to ensure events can still go ahead.
“We’re looking at blended solutions where the events are live streamed and potentially viewed in smaller groups but the key messages are still communicated,” said Roberts.
“This is a great short-term, immediate solution and we’re certainly seeing a lot of brands pivoting to this online option at the moment.”
‘Epidemics do finish’
Despite the uncertainty and unpredictability around COVID-19 and its impact on events, many industry leaders remain positive about 2020.
“The demand for live experiences has risen dramatically in recent years…so with this in mind, we’re confident our industry will continue to grow and that may just mean we come up with new creative and alternative ways [to host events],” said Roberts.
Donaghy said it’s vital to remember that major global incidents like COVID-19 have to come to an end.
“Those of us in the industry that have been around for some time, we’ve seen major crises happen probably every four to five years, whether its a health epidemic/pandemic, a financial crisis, a security/terrorism issue or a natural disaster,” he said.
“It’s very important that we have one foot in the present and we manage the situation, we manage it very responsibly…but it’s incredibly important to have one foot in the future as well.
“Epidemics do finish and we need to come out of it as a strong and vibrant and growing industry.”
EEAA and MEA are hosting a series of COVID-19 Information Exchanges, in Sydney, Perth, Melbourne, Brisbane and Adelaide next week. Find all the details here.
Stay up to date with the latest advice from the World Health Organization here.