October 1, 2021 | By Bronwen Largier

Chief Executive of New Zealand’s most prominent business events peak body Business Events Industry Aotearoa, Lisa Hopkins said the desire for events remains healthy but she’s not expecting much activity for the industry until 2022.

“The desire to go ahead with events is still strong. It now comes down to timing and with [yesterday’s] announcement, there will be many who may make a last minute call about whether they will go ahead or not,” said Hopkins.

“In the very short term, we may see some events scrape in during November and December, but realistically, I can see a more positive outcome in the medium term.

“From February onwards, we are expecting substantial volumes as we head into what is traditionally our heaviest quarter. The challenge will be to have enough venues to hold the events and enough staff to run the events.

“There is no doubt, there are some challenging times ahead as the sector tries to recoup some income lost during the current lockdown.”

Hopkins doesn’t believe there will be any targeted support for the events sector, despite no date set for events larger than 50 people to be permitted in Auckland.

“The Government’s approach has been a very blanket one, with wage subsidies and business support payments across the board. These are still in place.

“BEIA have lobbied for this, along with other industry associations and business organisations. The Government has certainly felt everyone leaning in to this subject,” said Hopkins.

“But we believe it doesn’t go far enough. We have also asked for support on event insurance, with BEIA presenting a proposal back in June, which would have provided NZD$20 million in cover for the events sector.

“The Government argues that taking a health-centric position is the best approach in the long run for business. We support this. But there needs to be balance.”

Hopkins said the association is in weekly direct contact with the Government.

“Engagement has noticeably increased and so has our opportunity to provide direct input on some key issues. We are also ensuring the opposition is well briefed on our situation. This is in keeping with BEIA’s advocacy approach which is centred on being transparent and solution-oriented.

“We are also working closely with other associations across the events, tourism, hotel and hospitality sectors. Leveraging our strength on common issues has proved to be successful, especially when the Government agreed to extend their Resurgence Support Programme which gives businesses support to cover overheads such as rent and utilities, in addition to the wage subsidy.”

And although the Government has flagged that there will be a lifting of the 100 person cap on “seated and separated” events, Hopkins said the Auckland lockdown is significantly impacting the industry in the rest of the country.

“When the largest city and main economic driver is unable to operate to its fullest potential, the impact across the country is substantial. It is estimated that during Alert Level 3 and 4, the country lost NZD$1.9 billion per week in activity.

“Auckland not only drives commerce, but also supply chain, tourism and attendees at events. Aucklanders typically make up 30 percent of attendance. Their loss is keenly felt, and event organisers are left wondering if it is worthwhile to proceed with plans if a core chunk of the attendees are able to attend.

“Ideally, the country needs to be back at the same Alert Level. Different levels just encourage confusion, ambiguity and frustration. But, we take the wins where we can.”

Hopkins said the Delta outbreak put the brakes on progress the association was making with Government in terms of understanding the industry and its value.

“The adage of ‘actions speak louder than words’ has never been more true than dealing with Government in the midst of a crisis.

“The first thing is to acknowledge the priority, which is health, safety and wellbeing of our people. But then comes the ability of people to invest, be educated, work, experience and provide.

“BEIA has been acknowledged as a solutions driven partner by the Government, however just when we felt we may have been making some strong traction, Delta arrived and priorities have changed.

“In general, the Government’s approach to events is good. But the challenge is helping the Government understand that events come in different forms and formats. Since 2019, we have seen the economic value of business events erode by 78 percent. Over NZD$530 million in international visitors alone, but also significantly during the various lockdowns. We have to be given the opportunity to rebuild and reconnect.

“We have a solid opportunity to do that now, with weekly interactions and a sense that the Government is looking at practical ways for business to open. We welcome the opportunity to work with them on that.”

Hopkins says the association has offered up its November national conference as a test event for new safety measures.

“We have suggested to Government they use our event to test any of the solutions which have been touted. Vaccination passports, rapid testing onsite are just a couple of recommendations.

Hopkins said the Government has a role to play in helping the events industry restart in a pandemic era.

“The Government has a significant role to play in clearing the roadblocks. We need further clarification on their vaccination position and if the requirement is for all attendees to be fully vaccinated at business events. Legislation is needed to back that up.

“We also need a robust, clear plan, with timelines, to quarantine-free travel again. Our sector needs time to plan, and given that international attendees make up over a third of our turnover, this is critical.

“Additionally with the significant investment in Te Pae Christchurch, Tākina and the New Zealand International Convention Centre these facilities also need a clear understanding of how we will reconnect with the world.”