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The World on Pause: Here's How COVID-19 Is Impacting the Events Industry

The global pandemic is not only taking thousands of lives. It's also killing the events industry as we know it.
The World on Pause: Here's How COVID-19 Is Impacting the Events Industry
IMAGE INSTAGRAM/coachella, mayadstudios
The global pandemic is not only taking thousands of lives. It's also killing the events industry as we know it.

As the dreaded threat of COVID-19 sweeps the globe, its dire effects point to dead, empty streets around the world. The repercussions of this malignant virus could not only be found in packed hospitals, though. It also hangs heavy like a hopeless reminder on the shoulders of millions of people forced into their homes without a stable source of income. One such industry reeling from being rendered paralyzed by the pandemic is the events industry.

The Global Effect

While people take shelter inside to participate in mass quarantine, the loss—characterized by silent stadiums—appears loud in the pockets of events planners and suppliers alike. What started out in Japan as having to cancel a few gatherings (including their world-famous Sakura festival) has, in just a few weeks, escalated into postponing a massive cultural global event, the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Announced by the International Olympic Committee, the health and safety of everyone involved remains paramount over anything else as they choose to reschedule the fated games.

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With more countries like the United Kingdom, Italy, China, New Zealand, and Poland among others closing off their borders, a wave of major event cancellations and postponements slowly followed suit. After all, who would even be attending?

Among these internationally known cultural shows are the Cannes Film Festival in France, Coachella, and the Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival in the United States, the Glastonbury Festival 2020 in the United Kingdom, and the 74th Annual Tony Awards. A slew of runway shows have also been cancelled including Tokyo Fashion Week, Shanghai and Beijing Fashion Weeks, and Sao Paolo Fashion Week, along with the rescheduling of the Met Gala. Consequently, international tours and concerts have been put on hold as well. Affected popstars include the Jonas Brothers, Miley Cyrus, The Rolling Stones, and Avril Lavigne to name a few.

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There’s no denying the obvious picture at this point. The world has been unwittingly put on pause. It’s no different for the Philippines. The government first banned mass gatherings last March 15, and with the current number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the Philippines already breaching the 2000-mark along with 88 deaths, there’s no telling when this measure, as well as the imposed Enhanced Community Quarantine, in Luzon will be lifted. This uncertain fact alone is causing great anxiety to the local events industry.

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Postponed and Cancelled Events Locally

Similar to the global situation, several events in the country had been forced to a stop or were moved to another date even before the Philippine government declared for a Community Quarantine last March 14. There’s the Manila Auto Show, the 82nd season of the University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP), Art in the Park, Wanderland Music & Arts Festival, and a series of concerts from international artists like 98 Degrees, Greenday, Khalid, and the Korean variety show, Running Man, just to name a few.

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In addition, more personal celebrations such as debuts and weddings had no choice but to comply as well. That said, the wedding industry in particular feels the brunt of the beating as declarations of love would have to take a backseat. Wedding suppliers recently revealed to Preview that most of their scheduled nuptials have been moved up to later months, some even onto the next year. Of course, while these suppliers remain eternally grateful to their clients for rescheduling instead of cancelling, there’s no seeing past the inevitable lack of income facing them for the next two or three months, maybe more should the quarantine be extended.

Financial Crisis

In a report by the Financial Times, it states that the global events industry, which is priced at more than one trillion dollars “is at the sharp end of the disruption unleashed by the virus.”  Olivier Rihs, the managing director of the now cancelled Geneva Motor Show, an annual auto show in Switzerland, says that their event alone is currently looking at a two-digit million loss. The show is considered as Switzerland’s largest event as it generates $209 million dollars for their economy.

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If a major international company sees no way out of their staggering financial drop, the plight of our individual local events organizers seems all the more harrowing. What’s more, wedding and events planning company La Belle Fete, in a statement to #SaveEvents, points out the lack of an organized national committee to aid businesses like them in this time of financial need. “The absence of existing regulatory board for local events industry players encumbers us from fully representing our sector,” their founder Ycoy Sitchon writes. “…an event regulatory body/agency to protect us would come in handy in these kinds of situations…They can probably utilize an in-house law firm, in-house insurance agency, and professional assistance, even financial aid to members just like in other countries. Due to the lack of this fortress, we go to the battlefield individually."

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In fact, in order to cope with the growing situation, other wedding coordinators such as Day One Project are left to depend solely on down payments from newer bookings. Aside from allocating what budget they have left for their personal daily needs, Angela Ibarle-Silan of Day One also admits to struggling to find online work opportunities for their staff now left to their own devices.

Loss of Income for Employees

In consequence, more than the financial loss of the overall industry, there's also its crippling effect on the employees of companies. “The financial setback that is currently experienced not just by the partners but by our regular staff is something to be worried about. Most of the staff we hire earn per event so it’ll be a huge blow for them not to be able to provide for their families,” explains Arbee Delgado, Managing Partner for Kiss the Girl Events. Thankfully for their employees though, Kiss the Girl remains adamant in keeping their regular staff afloat by giving them cash subsidies to tide them over the pandemic. Setting up an emergency fund may also be in the pipeline for after the crisis. Unfortunately, other staff workers may not be as lucky.

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Supporting Each Other to #SaveEvents

Given these dire setbacks, the events industry refuses to stay idle. As mentioned above, #SaveEvents, a movement that started out in the U.S. helmed by the industry to demand aid from their federal government, has made its way to the country. Leading the charge is Ycoy Sitchon, who reiterates that at the heart of this call is their desire to be able to reassure their clients and ease their anxiety during these uncertain times. But while they remain, first and foremost, dedicated to serving their clients, in order to do this, organizers like them must start by finding stability in their own business. “Now is the time to eradicate competition and spearhead cooperation. A solid campaign is necessary to combat the plummeting of the industry lest it will quickly go bust,” Ycoy writes. “It is time for us to review our business processes, not as a temporary balm to this crisis, but to form a solid business plan in the years to come. We should take this as an opportunity to reassess our contracts and recalibrate our respective systems.”

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Ycoy describes #SaveEvents as a campaign to boost the presence and morale of their comrades. Banding together amid the crisis, this not only involves helping each other adjust to their current situation, and consciously reaching out to their clients, but it also serves as a pillar to revamp what existing system they have in order to avoid similar predicaments in the future.

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Subsequently, the endeavor to help each other involves projects that reaches beyond the industry. “The main thrust is to save and help everyone in need,” Ycoy tells Preview. Partnering up with Angel Locsin and Neil Arce, SaveEventsPH aided in setting up temporary quarters for different hospitals for frontliners, effectively providing employment for their peers and colleagues in need in the process. Ycoy enumerates “We designed the tents care of Gideon Hermosa to give a comfortable setting. We also came up with this simple yet thoughtful gesture to put flowers atop the beds to welcome them. We also supplied pillows and masks through Arteegram, and food for the volunteers. We were able to ask other event suppliers to join this cause. Niceprint Photo donated toiletries and trash cans.”

Though the image at large may be harrowing, our local events industry pushes forward not just for them, but for the greater community in need outside their circle as well. Proof that while the world is at a standstill with so much to lose, to help gain it all back requires only the smallest of pure actions from one individual to the next.

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