Business events within the UK have seen significant impact with cancellation levels of 55% in Q2 and Q3 and the forecast total loss across the entirety of the events industry could be £58bn (US$71.6bn) this year, according to a national tourism board VisitBritain’s proposal document provided to the Cabinet Office Recovery Team at 10 Downing Street in London.
VisitBritain’s Helping the tourism industry recover from Covid-19: Proposals for government May 2020, for which trade association Business Visits and Events Partnership (BVEP) contributed, outlines a series of recommendations which would help the tourism and events industries recover from the Covid-19 crisis.
The document, shared with Conference & Meetings World, goes on to note that outdoor events have lost the majority of the 2020 season, with cancellations including 76% of all music events, 68.4% of arts events and 63% of fairs.
The proposal document has been released in the same week as the BVEP released its UK Events Report.
The proposal document speculates on timelines. It notes if the lockdown ended at the start of June 2020, we could expect to see some outdoor events restart, such as public spectacles, and some event venues re-open.
VisitBritain then expects that by autumn, or perhaps winter 2020, we will see the return of some international travel, reopening of some theatres, exhibition and conference venues, and indoor attractions that need to make major changes to their operations, some seasonal event activity, like Halloween, Christmas Fairs and New Year events, return to around 74% of business events.
Social distancing measures are not expected to be lifted until 2021, which would see the reopening of small venues which could not operate safely or economically at reduced capacity.
Outdoor events would then resume by summer 2021.
The document proposes a standards-led approach which allows businesses and destinations to assess their ability to reopen under clear criteria. This would also allow the flexibility for the events industry to find creative ways of operating some smaller meetings and events safely before larger scale organised events can be resumed.
It also notes that in an industry where health and safety regulations, and the welfare and safe management of attendees, are well established. Early opportunities to stage conferences and exhibitions to test best practice, risk assessment, social distancing and adherence to public health requirements would be welcome, it says.
The technology to pre-register attendees is already widely used by event organisers, making it easier to manage visitor flow and offer the potential track and trace delegates.
Many event businesses require a longer notice period of 8-12 weeks in order to accommodate content development and production planning, as well as the marketing and communications campaigns required to attract attendees.
The proposal recommends the extension of the furlough scheme in recognition that many events businesses will not be able to operate economically under continued social distancing, the seasonal nature of tourism (and many events) and its dependence on customer demand, and recognition of a stay safe charter mark is crucial for the survival of many events businesses.
The document goes on to note that venues and services, which are highly dependent on international visitors or business visits and events, are unlikely to see those customers return before 2021. For international visitors, this could include tour operators, some retail, some visitor sites and some accommodation. An extension to furlough needs to recognise this dependence on a normally lucrative international and business focused market and support their staff through this.
The industry also needs clear guidance on how best to protect staff and customers through adaptations to sites and extent of PPE. Airlines, airports, meeting venues, conference and exhibition centres, festivals and fairs and theme parks are among the businesses which have made contingency plans for temperature checks on all customers.
VisitBritain has also suggested a relaxation of planning restrictions that limit the season under which some organisations to operate, or where food and drink can be served/consumed.
In addition, a rapid review should take place of permissions and planning regulations associated with temporary structures which might be required to extend access in order to accommodate health screening, additional toilet facilities, social distancing routing and wider paths or gateways.
Licence and planning permission rates relief
Many local and community events are subject to annual licence payments; these payments could be suspended and a more agile and reactive planning and permissions approach taken to encourage people to hold more events, the proposal document notes.
It goes on to say that ministerial guidance to local authorities could encourage them to fast track planning permissions related to the visitor economy in order to enable organisations to adapt to the limits social distancing will place on their operations.
Local authorities would usually apply charges for changes to planning permissions; given the collapse in revenue these businesses have already experienced this year, an amendment to the regulations to provide a temporary exemption from the requirement to pay fees would help.
Consideration of an additional bank holiday or moving the later May bank holiday to October half term to stimulate demand when it is possible to travel is also suggested.
VisitBritain wants to see an acceleration and expansion of the Tourism Zones, as proposed in the Sector Deal to help with the development of poorer parts of the UK.
The Sector Deal proposed five Tourism Zones which would focus on increasing productivity, building careers, growing the season by, for example, building events and improving the local offer; given the impact of the crisis, more destinations will need this sort of support to rebuild.
The business visits and events sector can adapt its registration systems to include health screening data in order to increase confidence and improve safety for everyone in the extended supply chain. Such technology can (and already has been) deployed to track, trace and test.
The proposal notes the UK government is well-placed to take a leadership role by running major events designed to assist in the global recovery from Covid-19. Such events would “showcase British knowledge and expertise, venues, destinations and creativity.”