Events are back and event management companies are busier than ever. Certainly there is an appetite for events and people are keen to attend meetings, expos, festivals, art exhibitions, theatre, music events and more.
However, in NSW, we have now seen the return of Dr Kerry Chant and Brad Hazzard to our TV screens as Australia reached the milestone of 10,000 deaths associated with COVID. The scary thing about this figure is that the total number of deaths stood at 5,000 in February this year.
While some might dispute whether these deaths are “from COVID” or “with COVID” – either way the number is growing exponentially and I believe it is only a matter of time before governments are forced to act.
People catching COVID and self isolating at home for a week is one thing, but a hospital system under stress is what will make them act.
There have been four major industry events so far this year and I wonder what we are learning from each of them.
As we moved into 2022 most travel restrictions had been lifted as had the proof of vaccination requirements in each state. So now it was up to the venues and event owners to impose any restrictions they saw fit, and they all quote “we follow the government health advice”.
First up this year was Get Local. All attendees had to declare that they were fully vaccinated and return a negative RAT on arrival each day. The venue was spacious and the stands also well-spaced and although not required, most attendees followed the advice to wear masks. The networking event at Doltone House was more crowded as people gathered together for the first networking event of 2022, but it did feel safe because everyone had to pass that RAT earlier in the day.
Next up was AIME. The organisers asked for all attendees to undergo a RAT on arrival.
Once again the venue was very spacious with no particular issues in the expo. The welcome function however was a different story with people at one stage in a very crowded space with reports following the event of a large number of COVID infections.
I didn’t attend the venue managers conference so I don’t know what the situation was there
Last week the MEA conference was held in person for the first time in two years. No restrictions at all. Once again the exhibition and meeting space was in very spacious rooms with high ceilings. However, the end of conference drinks event was held in a bar that was packed. People were not wearing masks because they were eating and drinking, and because it was so noisy they were in each other’s faces to talk to each other. I’m convinced that it was at this event that I caught COVID along with a number of others I have spoken to.
I went down to Melbourne for a one day event and have been sick for nearly a week.
Let me be clear, the organisers of each of these events followed government health guidelines and I’m not suggesting that they did anything wrong or that events should be curtailed.
But should we as an industry be doing more?
Following the government health advice is one thing – but that advice is always a political decision in the end. Surely governments should have kept the requirement for travel and entry to venues to be restricted to the fully vaccinated.
The issue is that governments have taken a broad based approach. For example the previous square metre per person restrictions did not take into account the amount of air or airflow in a room. And airflow in a large conference centre, expo hall or theatre with high ceilings is a lot different to a bar with a low ceiling. In retrospect maybe the rules should have been based on cubic metres per person instead of square metres.
OK this gets a bit technical but bear with me.
In a venue with a 3m ceiling you get 3 cubic metres of air per square metre of floor space, but if the ceiling is 15 m then that provides 15 cubic metres of air per square metre of floor space.
So then, say the restriction is one person per 1 m2 in a high ceiling venue. That now equates to one person per 15 m3, extrapolate that to a bar with a 3m ceiling and 15 m3 represents 5 m2 of floor space. So the restriction in that venue should be one person per 5 m2.
Yes I know that the restrictions had to be rolled out quickly and had to be easy to understand and implement, but it is something to keep in mind when you are planning an event and are genuinely concerned about the safety of your guests.
The irony is that when patrons are in a theatre or a conference with plenty of air it is easy (or even recommended) to wear a mask, but then they go to a networking function in a crowded venue with less air and they don’t wear a mask (because they are eating and drinking).
So maybe the answer is to hold networking functions outdoors, although that would not have been comfortable in Melbourne last week.
There is now serious talk about restrictions being reintroduced by the states and certainly masks look like being mandated for indoor events again. Once again it will be a blanket ban without regard to the amount of air or ventilation and masks will not be required when eating and drinking (when people are closer together).
It is not only the business event industry where this should be of concern. I highly recommend this article from Arts Hub looking at arts events and festivals with a couple of quotes worth noting…
That said, it’s also clear that festivals and arts organisations have a duty of care to their audiences and should be encouraging measures to minimise the spread of COVID in order to protect the community at large. People’s safety must always come first.
Many who attended such recent major opening weekends did contract COVID, making such events ‘super-spreaders’. Should we be flocking back in such numbers?
The simple answer – as many would argue – is yes. The arts need to be generating income, and having visitors back in venues is an overwhelmingly good feeling. But it also needs to be done safely, with the health of patrons and the general public maintained as a priority.
And to the question Should we be flocking back in such numbers?
I totally agree with the response by Fairley. Not only the arts need to be generating income, so do events. But it also needs to be done safely for our patrons and our staff.
Read the full article by Gina Fairley in Arts Hub
Gary Fitz-Roy has also had something to say about this issue.
This week’s news reports covering the new Covid variant and the prediction that the next two to four weeks will see it spread rapidly, coupled with the announcement that the second booster shot is now freely available for all, would and should send chills down event industry spines!
There is talk of masks being re-introduced in certain settings and just like March 13, 2020 business event settings are likely to be one of the first to be impacted.
Controlling the spread is a good thing. We have all experienced what it’s like when covid is circulating and taking out staff, clients and visitors.
The issue however at heart is if the new variant spreads, and is even half as bad as now being portrayed, it could have serious effect on business events on multiple levels – sponsors, exhibitors, delegates and visitors.The second part is if masks are re-introduced the fear factor will again take a toll our old friend CONFIDENCE.
I hope the associations are watching and preparing to lobby, have a voice and put support services in place for the industry they purport to represent. It’s a shame the talk of forming one effective association hasn’t been delivered, as more than ever we need one strong voice the whole industry can unite behind.
Let’s hope the mainstream media doesn’t control the narrative and stuff our industry again.