The business events sector has fallen through the cracks, and those cracks are turning into a mighty chasm, writes Business Events Industry Aotearoa chief executive Lisa Hopkins.
Fresh data from Q4 2021, paints a desperate look at the impact the lockdowns have had on the sector, with the number of events held down by almost 50% when compared to the same quarter the previous year.
From a national value of $1.5bn in 2019, the sector has recorded a 78% decline in revenues since the beginning of 2020. More than 22,000 people worked in the industry pre-Covid; today, estimates put that number at closer to 6,000. Those who remain are working multiple roles in hotels and venues or are the business owners of the hundreds of SME’s who supply the sector. Last count, over 32 individual industry types were reliant on the staging of a business event.
While the supply chain is deep and broad, it cannot operate on passion and energy alone. A sector intensely proud of its “hand up” versus “hand out” approach to Covid has been decimated by restrictions and roadblocks.
But we retain hope. That hope comes from a combination of initiatives including government support, the exceptional knowledge of the industry in managing safe events, and the gradual resumption of international visitors to our shores via an open and unrestricted border, sooner, rather than later. Today’s announcement from Minister Carmel Sepuloni of a $120m boost to the arts and culture sector demonstrates the appetite for government intervention with financial support, business events just need to see this swing their way.
Many have repeated the mantra – we are currently operating under level red, which is not a lockdown. Yet it feels horrifically like a repeat of last August, but without the financial assistance. Moving from Alert level 1 up to level 4 presented a significant alteration in doing business. Moving from orange level to red level has replicated that change. Fear. Caution. Optics and public opinion. If confidence is the lifeblood of business events, a transfusion is needed stat.
This can start now with government departments committing to holding their business events already booked, instead of cancelling them. This would show the rest of the country confidence in our highly vaccinated population, the Covid-19 Protection Framework process, and the rigours that are characteristic of a highly-managed business event.
Indeed, the sector merits government recognition as a critical component of New Zealand’s recovery. Reconnecting New Zealand with the rest of the world in business, cultural exchange, experiences and knowledge sharing is vital to the business events, tourism, and hospitality sectors, working in partnership with government.
Right now, we have $150m in revenue at risk through a combination of domestic and international business events, scheduled for 2022. While our Australian neighbours continue to hang in there with bookings still showing in March, we know it’s a matter of time before this figure dwindles while the spectre of forced isolation upon arrival in New Zealand looms. No international traveller is willing to spend seven to ten days in isolation, before attending a three-day conference. Yet we know these travellers are fully vaccinated, healthy, and prepared to contribute to the recovery of our country.
Business events are a strategic tool for attracting trade, investment, and people. The government is currently investing in the industry through infrastructure to maximise the high value and long term benefits the industry delivers.
But it’s not just the economic contribution. The sector goes much deeper than that, aligning with communities, encouraging foreign investment, and providing stimulus for industries that are important to New Zealand’s long-term vision for growth and prosperity. The industry nurtures collaboration in research, fosters innovation and boosts productivity, while at the same time encouraging and developing career aspirations within a predominately full-time, yet wonderfully exciting, employee environment.
Over the past two years, both hospitality and tourism operators have not only felt the decline of the sector in their revenues, but also in job retention, company culture and creativity. It’s the business event sector that helps keep hotels and restaurants full and tourism operators busy during the week. A loss which our friends in those sectors have felt keenly.
It also supports important cultural exchange and diplomacy, most recently demonstrated at APEC 2021 and COP26, two of the biggest and most crucial business events on the calendar. A mature business events sector is a signal of a mature society.
The business events industry was on the precipice of global greatness, through people and talent, infrastructure, and New Zealand’s position as a premium destination. Today, we find ourselves tested in a way we couldn’t imagine two years ago. Over the next few weeks, we will learn more about the government’s intentions to fully reconnect New Zealand to the world. A well-supported business events sector plays a crucial role in that strategy.
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