What happens to the events industry now?

By Naveed Rozais

2020 has seen large-scale events become something of a work of wonder. With the lockdown in March completely and utterly halting events of any kind for three months, the events industry took a severe blow at a time when they were just recovering from other setbacks.

The recent surge of Covid-19 infections has led to the Government prohibiting the organisation, promotion, and conducting of any events including but not limited to exhibitions, musical shows, outdoor events, parties, and conferences until further notice.

The Morning Brunch reached out to Event Productions (Pvt.) Ltd. Founder/Managing Director and Event Management Association (EMA) President Roshan Wijeyaratne to gain some insights into how the events industry is handling and responding to this latest setback.

Overall state of industry

Wijeyaratne explained that the last one-and-a-half years or so have been a very turbulent time for the industry.

“This is our fourth big blow – the first was the political turmoil in October 2018, followed by the Easter attacks, and then Covid-19,” Wijeyaratne shared, adding that following the Easter attacks in April last year, some event companies ran for up to five months with no income at all, draining their resources to keep their companies going and their staff paid.

The timing of the pandemic and the lockdown has been particularly hard for the events industry. “We had already taken heavy losses and were not geared to face another blow,” Wijeyaratne stressed.

With Covid-19 in particular, Colombo and the rest of Sri Lanka were just getting used to large events taking place again, albeit in scaled down versions.

This came to a crashing halt when the newest cluster of Covid-19 infections was discovered on 4 October, with over 1,000 infections and climbing being reported since. This, combined with the Government’s directive to suspend events in the interim while the threat is dealt with, has led to many event cancellations.

Speaking on cancellations, Wijeyaratne explained that in many cases, event companies don’t take advances from clients, especially clients with whom they have longstanding relationships.

“What happens when an event gets cancelled is that, basically for us, as event managers,  we lose out a lot because we do all the groundwork. A lot of time goes into planning and there’s typically no cancellation fee. Hotels and vendors generally take an advance based on the relationship, and if it’s a postponement, they carry the advance forward, but it all depends on the venue, the vendor, and the relationship,” he said.

Responding as an industry

“We launched the EMA in 2019 after Easter, and we now have over 60 members. Immediately after Covid happened, we started engaging with the Government and met with the Prime Minister that month itself. The Prime Minister directed (us) to the Treasury Secretary. The EMA also consulted with the Government and the Ministry of Health to put together a set of guidelines as to how an event could be conducted mid-pandemic,” Wijeyaratne elaborated.

On a private level, the EMA has been working with Ernst & Young to do a study to protect the marketing and communications (marcom) industries which encompasses marketing, communications, video production, and event management among a host of other skills and services.

“The marcom industry is a Rs. 151 billion industry. It is 1% of our country’s GDP. We did a presentation to the Prime Minister and Finance Minister a couple of weeks ago, with the view of the Government considering the marcom industry in their budget and coming up with proposals like giving our clients concessions on marcom spending so that clients are encouraged to hold events as opposed to cutting back due to taxes,” he said.

The EMA is also approaching the Government to revise entertainment taxation, proposing that entertainment taxes be waived for a year in order to allow the events industry to bounce back.

Taking events online

The pandemic has made online living and interaction the order of the day. While going online is something that is important, Wijeyaratne explained that going online is not something the events industry can sustain, particularly at the ground level.

“You can do events, but so many people, especially those at the labour level, get nothing out of an online event. It can’t help the industry as a whole. Sound equipment, lighting, LED screen vendors lose out. What you earn off an online event is very small. It’s not enough to sustain your company in the long term,” he pointed out.