Industry News: Business events sector implores govt to remove it from lockdown’s ‘gatherings grouping’
22 January 2021
Despite many companies being able to arrange business events where people remain socially distanced, the continued restrictions imposed by the current lockdown regulations are causing a lot of job losses, according to Tshifhiwa Tshivhengwa, CEO of the Tourism Business Council of SA (TBCSA), which represents the private sector.
He pointed out that the yield per visitor for the business events industry – formerly known as the meetings, incentives, conference and exhibition (MICE) industry – is “many times higher” than from leisure tourism.
In his view, regulations in terms of the Disaster Management Act need to rather balance lives and livelihoods and allow those who can manage the protocols, to continue operating.
That is why the business events sector is continuing to try and convince government to separate business events out of the “gatherings” grouping that government uses within the Disaster Management Act, according to Glenton de Kock, CEO of the Southern African Association for the Conference Industry (SAACI).
“The business events industry is key to the economic recovery of many destinations within South Africa. With the correct funding support from government, the industry will be able to slowly bring back economic activity in certain parts of the country. We urge government to move the business events industry out of the definition of ‘gatherings’, as this will allow the industry to activate and make its much needed contribution to the economy,” said De Kock.
Tshivhengwa said, currently, business events were non-existent. It was not working due to the current regulations in place. He is concerned about the international companies involved in properties which cater mostly to the business events industry, maybe deciding to pull out of the country.
“The business events sector really is in a dire situation. It is almost dead and those hanging on are just trying to do so, because there is nothing else they can do. It is not just hotels catering for business events which are suffering. Think of shuttle services, bus companies, lighting providers and other small businesses suffering. We need to try and correct this dire situation.”
Proof of Concept
De Kock agreed that the business events industry has demonstrated, through some “proof of concept events” held in the later part of 2020, that it could meet safely and within the protocols stipulated in the Disaster Management Act (DMA).
“Despite the conference industry having hosted a show to demonstrate it can host events in a safe way, companies are mostly using virtual meetings and even government is not hosting the in-person conferences it used too. Incentive travel and exhibitions are also non-existent,” said Tshivhengwa.
“Everyone who still has a job in the business events is just happy to still have one. Everything is online now. There is no human touch.”
The biggest challenge for the business events industry is to see how to make money and keep people employed.
“Coronavirus protocols are part of our solution. We have shown we can do business events in a safe way. The business events industry provides people with things to do, especially over weekends and exhibitions showcase things people would not otherwise be exposed to,” explains Tshivhengwa.
“The business events industry has developed a comprehensive set of safety protocols in accordance with the general requirement that allows people to meet for a business event. The longer we operate under the restrictions currently in place, the more jobs will be lost, and we will see more businesses closing their doors,” warned De Kock. He said momentum that started to build in the business events industry, was unfortunately hampered by the move back to adjusted Level 3 lockdown and he expects it will put a halt to any planned business events for the first quarter of 2021.
“The business meetings industry fully understands the need to protect lives, but like many industries, restrictions have and will continue to affect livelihoods,” said De Kock.
“It remains a work in progress for the business events industry. The industry recognises its role in ensuring that solutions to sustainability are found. Keeping the industry active during this pandemic requires a collective approach, which we have seen in the later part of 2020 and will see more of once we may operate more freely.”
At the same time, the coronavirus pandemic has accelerated the onset of innovation for business solutions within the business events industry.
“Technology has always been part of the industry and we have seen developments in the delivery of online events. The biggest shift has been how the industry will address the sustainability aspect of the delivery of in-person events,” said De Kock.
The use of pre-packed meals and a shift in how exhibition stands are built are examples of how the industry was adapting.
The move to deliver online events and a steady increase of online business events have, however, not yielded as much revenue for the sub-sectors of the business events industry, neither contributed to “cross pollinating” industries such as aviation and accommodation.
“Early indications, prior to the announcement of the country moving to an Adjusted Level 3 lockdown, were that the business events industry had a blended approach of hybrid and in-person. The current approach would, however, be to continue online in the short-term and slowly build demand in a safe manner as the industry did in the second half of 2020,” said De Kock.
“The confidence of attendees will be key for the business events industry, as well as positive news of vaccine arrival in South Africa.”