On the surface it might seem as though the event industry is re-emerging from COVID-19; restrictions are gradually easing and event planning is getting underway again.
But one Queensland event professional is concerned by a lack of communication between the industry and government, and says it is becoming detrimental to the survival of the business events sector.
Bob Carroll is the managing director at Australian Events, a Queensland-based event and exhibition company behind some of Queensland’s biggest lifestyle exhibitions, including Gold Coast Expo, the Queensland Outdoor Adventure and Motoring Expo, Rockhampton Expo and more.
When COVID-19 hit, many of these events were postponed until later in 2020 and some into 2021. But with 10 events scheduled to take place between the end of July and later October, Carroll is concerned at the lack of communication he’s received from state health officials.
“All of those events are really subject to approval by the health department,” he explains.
“The most frustrating part is that we can not find, or we can not be given a person at Queensland Health to talk specifically and directly about any of those particular events.”
What’s even more alarming, says Carroll, is the number of public weekend markets that have continued to operate during COVID-19, while events have been forced to postpone or cancel.
“We see [the government] allowing weekend markets, night markets, all-day markets to function freely, without any COVID-safe planning, and if there is any COVID-safe planning they’re not sharing it. That’s the frustrating part,” he says.
Carroll is pleading with the Queensland Government to communicate with the business events industry.
“If anything is going to change, wake up government and talk to us,” he says.
“We have incredibly talented people in this industry…there is a lot of skill and a lot of adaptability in our ranks, and [the government] are not talking to us.
“We want to help them define policy that’s practical, workable and keeps our staff, our exhibitors safe but is also going to give patrons the confidence to come to these events.”
Call for state-level support from industry bodies
Carroll has also called on the industry’s peak bodies to provide more state-level support to address region-specific issues.
“The other thing I see is organisations which we’re party to like EEAA, BECA and any of the other organisations that involve conference and exhibition organisers, they’re talking to the government at the federal level, but there are lots of individual situations going on,” he says.
“We need help in individual states to develop good lines of communication.”
As the umbrella organisation for the business events industry’s peak bodies, Business Events Council of Australia (BECA) has a specific remit around lobbying government at the federal level.
But BECA chair Vanessa Findlay says state-level communication is something the organisation has been strengthening during COVID-19.
“What has become apparent during the COVID crisis is the strength of representation and the need for representation at the state level is equally important,” she told Spice News.
“What we’ve done at BECA to reflect that need is nominate a representative that sits within the BECA framework as the state lead so any one of the BECA members takes a lead responsibility for the jurisdiction in which they have the best relationships.”
Findlay advises event professionals to reach out to their industry-specific association with questions or concerns, which are then collected and brought to the BECA table.
Exhibition and Event Association of Australasia (EEAA) chief executive Claudia Sagripanti echoed this, and encouraged members to reach out to any of the board members of herself during this time.
“We have been working with BECA on government lobbying and advocacy at a federal level, but we also have been active at a state level as well, and in particular, Queensland,” she told Spice News.
“The board has been incredibly supportive and most are in constant contact with members. So there are a lot of conversations going on.”
Queensland restriction rollback not enough
While the Federal Government recently announced it will remove the 100 person limit on events in stage three of its COVID recovery plan, Queensland is yet to commit to these new guidelines and still plans to cap events at 100 people in stage three, set to come into effect on 10 July.
Carroll labelled the lack of commitment from the Queensland government as “disgraceful” saying business events, in particular exhibitions, are able to provide social distancing measures that are “more than adequate”, given the large-scale venues that are available and the sector’s ability to adapt.
“Event organisers are used to dealing with crisis, we are used to being adaptable, we are probably the most adaptable business [sector] out there,” he says.
“A lot of the companies that I’ve talked to, they’ve already defined a COVID-safe plan, so we’re ready to roll.”
Financial support is crucial
Like many event professionals, Carroll believes financial support is the only way the industry will survive this period.
“For most event companies, by the time the government gets their act together and starts approving venues and events, we’re going to be on the verge of our quiet time,” he says.
“I think a lot of these companies will desperately be needing support and whether it’s JobKeeper or a modified program, I think it’s going to be absolutely essential.”
In a bid to extend the JobKeeper program, BECA has launched an industry survey to gather evidence to present to government. Find out more here.