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The Cost of COVID-19 On The Events Sector

Remember when ITB got cancelled? It was less than a month ago, but so much has changed since then.

The events sector found itself in the eye of the COVID-19 storm much earlier than hotels did. Industry associations are already totaling the loses, but also focusing on the future.

There had been more than 500 trade fairs and exhibitions cancelled or postponed globally and 220 exhibitions cancelled or postponed in Europe alone. This has had a huge impact on the companies involved in staging exhibitions and the companies that exhibit or source on trade fairs. And naturally, this has a huge knock-on effect on the hotel and travel industries.

The European Exhibition Industry Alliance (EEIA) estimated that, as of 9 March 2020, the economic loss in Europe alone from these cancellations was €5.8 billion, with the global cost estimated at €14.4 billion. The EEIA says that more than 51,400 jobs could be lost in Europe as a result. The alliance represents 400 European exhibition organizers and venues.

We caught up with events industry expert James Latham, Founder, The Iceberg, to find out how event providers are reacting, and why the events sector could be leading the charge when business does start to return to normal.

JamesLathamIn your opinion, should event organisers be cancelling or postponing events right now?
In the immediate term, all events should be cancelled as a duty of care for all stakeholders until such time as the medical authorities deem it safe to reconvene.

How can event organisers offer a virtual option to their events?
There are many platforms available for the virtualization of events and other communities. Keeping the dialogue going is important so that the recovery to the economy everywhere can be accelerated once the community is able to advance through face to face connection. Meanwhile, the meeting places and the marketplaces of events can and should continue to convene online in preparation.

Should events focus more on their domestic market?
Certainly it will be the domestic events markets which return first for the simple reason that while there remains contagion elsewhere in the world, global events will remain at risk. Remember though, that we live in a globally connected world with degrees of interdependency which cannot be replaced simply through domestic supply chains. There is only so much that these markets can fill the void of the global connections required to restore the economy and the industry supply chains to the pre-COVID era.

How can other service providers, such as hotels, help alleviate the negative impact of event cancellations for organisers, delegates and themselves?
In the immediate term we are already seeing hotels convert to medical care as the pandemic demands isolated environments within which to house and treat the sick. We've also seen convention centres [in Wuhan, for example,] adapted for the same. It is good to see how the infrastructure of our industry can support the treatment of infected people and I hope that the governments recognise how adaptable we are as industry from change agents and travel agents to supporting community healthcare in these difficult times.

Once we enter recovery, and traveller confidence returns, do you predict a spike in
meetings and events?
Absolutely but there needs to be urgent thought on the part of government to ensure that the industry is fit to do so because so many parts to the business and professional events ecosystem is dependent upon the myriad of small to medium size enterprises. If support is not in place, and fast, then the industry is at risk of a crash not seen since 1929 and it will take years to replace these essential skills and organizations.

The message conveyed recently by Kai Hattendorf, CEO of the global association for exhibitions and trade fairs [and current serving president of the Joint Meetings Industry Council, JMIC] was emphatically that meetings, congresses, trade fairs and other cultural, sporting, and community events are the fast track to a global recovery.

At The Iceberg we have been working with the JMIC members to showcase the outcomes (social, economic and societal) resulting from our industry and we continue to emphasize that we are not just about supporting the travel and hospitality supply chains you referred to earlier but the source of the trade, the knowledge transfer, the professional development and innovation which deliver for economic growth and the health and social well-being of the communities and civil society they serve.

What can the meetings and events industry be doing now to prepare for better times?
Staff training, investing in virtual meetings technology, venue improvements, communications, are all vital, but most importantly we must send a clear and consistent message to government that we are the fast track to the global recovery and that during the interim they must provide the financial support that the sector needs in large part to survive a timeframe which no-one can currently predict.

We certainly need to keep our heads and emphasize that when the contagion is brought under control the industry will be the ignition to economic recovery and social transformation but at the same time we have to retain a view to the reality of the issue at hand.

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