By Graeme Kemlo

Industry veteran, Peter Jones of Peter Jones Special Events (PJSE) says the events industry has been decimated by COVID-19 and despite proposals put to government for support: “…they say they can’t help, that’s just the way it is… we are regarded as collateral damage.”

He said the Victorian Government handed out more than $500 million in support packages, mostly to the leisure sector, “but we have been banging our head against a brick wall.”

“Reports that Melbourne is doing well – the B+Bs are booked out, restaurants are busy – is just false hope,” he said.

Melbourne, despite its global reputation for business events, is suffering badly.

Public events have been cancelled because of social distancing problems – “six exhibitions have been cancelled – the latest is the Melbourne Flower and Garden Show,” Peter said.

And corporate or socially distanced indoor events are marginal at best when limited at 25-50 per cent of capacity.

In his 30th year in business, Peter Jones has no wish to celebrate. He is down from eight staff to four and two of them have left the industry; he has not run any of his trademark special events since March last year. PJSE has delivered the Australia Day public events in Melbourne for the past 20 years, but yesterday’s event was cancelled; so too were other regulars – the AFL and Melbourne Cup parades.  He has a corporate dinner later this month and an Olympics fundraising event, but there is still some uncertainty about them.

Peter Jones says he fears a brain drain of experienced industry personnel and business failures. “One major industry operator went from 850 staff to 50 in one week; I know another supplier who has just folded, as well as two catering companies… I think the industry will look decidedly different come Christmas.”

Virtual events are not the answer, he says.

“Have you tried to get 198 people together on a Zoom call?”

Basically it is all COVID-related, but more specifically it is the overwhelming uncertainty about border closures and confidence.

“Many of our events are national and people fear being locked out of their home state if they need to get the team together in the one room in Melbourne,” he said.

Many corporates are simply postponing.  If all the postponed events were to go ahead we’d have a busy June through November, but there’s a real lack of confidence out there.”

“PJSE has not lost any clients. They will come back when confidence returns and we will survive, but it will be as two or three man band.”