Gary Fitz-Roy is the Managing Director of Expertise Events, which at 32 years is the longest independent family run exhibition business in Australia. His business puts together over 30 events a year and some of these are the oldest exhibition brands in Australia. Well known in the events sector, Gary was 16 years old when he started in the industry, has over 40 years experience and is not known as a shrinking violet. He was recently interviewed by Sky News on the obstacles facing events recovery post COVID, and in this article for EventOrganisers, Gary lays out his case for a four-step recovery plan.
“Almost twelve months on from being one of the first sectors to close at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the questions asked by everyone, from event organisers, suppliers, venues and of course exhibitors & attendees, all stem from one key area – Confidence.
What first started as an issue of safety for state and federal governments, has deteriorated into political point scoring and unjustified decision making. These factors, together with an overall lack of recognition of the value of the events industry has put us all under a cloud of doubt. We are uncertain when events will return, which suppliers will succumb to mounting bills, what events will organisers be forced to drop and who (and how many) of our incredible people, with all their talent and knowledge that make up so much of the industry, will return?
We need to support each other like never-before, with the goal of getting through this and coming out the other side. Extensive media coverage of hospitality & tourism show us that events fall between the cracks of these two industries and is not at the forefront of media or government considerations. When a café is forced to do takeaways or a tourism operator focus on domestic tourism, they generate something. But when legislation prevents events from proceeding and imposed state border closures stop people attending events, the result is a total forced closure of an industry.
However, we must remain optimistic because optimism instils hope and hope builds confidence. Whist we have already started to see some green shoots of recovery, it is important that every effort is made to recognise that events will fully recover and with great attendance. It’s important for the economy because this industry directly contributes $35 billion to Australia each year. Not least of all, it’s important for the 240,000 people who have built their lives, businesses and careers around this great industry.
These are the four basic requirements that I believe must be agreed between our industry and government, for the events sector to survive & rebound.
- Surety from February 2021 that state borders will remain open
The Federal Government needs to get off the fence and start making an impact. If they really lack power to make firm decisions, they should look to impose indirect restrictions through taxation, benefits and even vaccination delivery to influence the state governments.
- JobKeeper extension for the Events industry
If this isn’t going to happen, an alternate form of government assistance should be implemented to allow events businesses to retain their staff. JobKeeper doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of costs that a business incurs to keep its doors open. By the time March comes round, unless operations are in full swing the industry will see another significant loss of talented people, who will likely end up on some other form of interim government funding while they look for new employment.
- Each state to give consideration how it will get events to return.
This includes ensuring that events are not simply ‘bought’ and moved, to the detriment of another state. Given the involvement many states have with venues, rental pricing is a good place to start.
- State government to develop a program to manage the return of the events industry.
Firstly, there must be consideration to cover the COVID specific costs associated with staging events to the standard that each state government imposes, because organisers, venues and suppliers should not be burdened these extra costs. Secondly, if a state government decides to close down an event or prevent its running, they should compensate the organisers left with hefty bills, angry exhibitors and disgruntled visitors.
Let’s make it clear, the events industry is not looking for a handout and we want to get back to work. But it does come back to Confidence – the industry needs to know that there is support, that there is recognition that this isn’t a situation anyone volunteered for and that there are fair safety nets in place that do not burden businesses with significant exposure. In the meantime, we need to remain optimistic and work together to ensure the full recovery of live events.”