Nick Morgan, a member of the One Industry One Voice campaign and CEO of event production agency We Are The Fair, reflects on the impact of Covid-19 on the event industry and suggests ways in which it can reopen safely.
The Covid-19 pandemic has caused unprecedented disruption and impairment to the live events industry.
The sector contributes £84bn to the UK economy and employs more than 1.5 million people. But since March 2020 live events have been mothballed. The UK festival circuit, which added £1.76bn in gross value to the economy in 2019, has been especially hard hit after last year’s season was effectively wiped out, with revenues down by 90%.
In my 23 years’ experience across large-scale event and festival production, Licensing, and Health and Safety within the public realm, I have never seen the industry so adversely impacted.
The Government’s new roadmap out of lockdown, which was announced on 22 February, was, with caution, hugely welcomed by events industry professionals. It will give event organisers the step-by-step certainty and clarity they need to plan ahead and go a long way to renewing consumer confidence. Immediately after the prime minister’s announcement, ticketing operators experienced a huge surge in website traffic and ticket sales, and the confirmation that the Reading and Leeds music festivals are to take place this summer will continue to reassure the market.
If the infection rates continue to drop and the UK makes consistent progress towards its vaccine rollout goals, large indoor performances and sporting events with a capacity of 1,000 people will return from 17 May and outdoor large performances and sporting events with a maximum capacity of 4,000 people will be permitted. Bigger sports stadiums will be allowed 10,000 attendees. The Government hopes to lift all remaining restrictions on social contact by 21 June.
The concern is what conditions may apply to the safe operation of festivals. These won’t be crystallised until the Science Research Group convenes and selects pilots which will then produce the data required to inform operation guidance. We won’t actually get the green light until the 14 June, so this presents huge planning challenges and the need to urgently revisit the reinsurance scheme. Without this we are asking promoters to risk hundreds of thousands of pounds up to that point without any underwriting.
As festivals begin to make their long-awaited comeback, the health and safety of ticketholders and attendees will remain at the forefront of all our event planning.
The UK events industry is known for its world-leading expertise in staging safe events and experiences for millions of people each year. We observe some of the most rigorous health and safety guidelines anywhere in the world, delivering experiences in a tightly controlled environment.
We can be trusted to deliver safe events for consumers, working collaboratively with the Government and other public authorities to ensure they conform to all the current guidelines and health measures. And consumers can confidently enjoy organised events and experiences in the knowledge that the highest safety standards have been followed.
In early February, Rowan Cannon, director of festival organisers, Wild Rumpus, caught the attention of the national media when she told MPs that festivals have the potential to be “as safe as Sainsbury’s” with the right measures in place, despite the impact of the pandemic. And I think she is right.
The Glyndebourne Opera is proceeding with its annual opera on 20 May but some notable and very important adjustments will be implemented to uphold social distancing and ensure safety precautions are adhered to. One production will be presented as a semi-staged concert, the audience will be capped at 600, half its usual capacity, and entrances will be staggered.
With a multi-pronged approach tailored to the size and scale of the event, I believe we can responsibly navigate the challenges and continue to protect staff and ticketholders.
But social distancing cannot be the sole control. It would be incredibly difficult, if not impossible, for venues and festivals to operate viably with social distancing mandates in place.
Rapid on-site testing – testing all audience members on the day and granting entry to those with a negative result who are not infectious – has been hotly debated. But testing on the gates has huge implications. Is it practical to contain attendees in a sterile area until they get their results? Rapid on-site testing technology has to work, materials to manufacture a high number of them have to be sourced and many logistical challenges need to be met.
Pre-event mass-testing in advance of attending an event, however, would be a more viable solution, possibly allowing venues to reopen whilst minimising the social distancing measures. It’s an ambitious measure to successfully implement, but pilot events in April to test the efficacy of using negative test results as condition of entry will certainly steer the government guidance.
The Government hopes to set out the conclusion of a review on using proof of having a Covid-19 vaccine to enter mass events ahead of Step 4 on 21 June. Digital ‘health passports’ or ‘vaccine passports’ that serve as proof of an attendee’s good health, portable ‘on your phone’ evidence that you’ve had the vaccine, could potentially help pave another way for a safe return to festivals.
For indoor events, new and advanced UV-C filtration systems, which can clean and scrub the air and provide better air circulation in venues, may also be part of the solution.
“There is no one-size-fits-all approach to staging events safely.”
With venues in May resuming live events at limited capacities, event planners and organisers will continue to manage and ‘zone’ indoor and outdoor spaces responsibly through distanced seating, the removal of alternate rows of stalls from sale, clearly signposted one-way systems and clearly designated and staggered points of ingress and egress, platformed private viewing areas, food and drink ordered via phone apps and the prohibition of tickets sold on the door.
These measures can be further supported by additional processes to make people feel more comfortable and reassured: continued enforcement of PPE and face masks, thermo scanners and contact tracing systems which use information provided when booking tickets.
Further to working on no less than 132 festivals this year, I am also proud to be part of the #wecreateexperiences movement, a new campaign launched by One Industry One Voice – an industry-wide coalition of businesses and trade associations spanning all the core sectors of the live experiences and events industry.
Our aim is to educate, inspire and reassure consumers of the power, safety, importance and value of festivals, music and cultural shows, mass participation sport events, weddings and charity fundraisers – the economic and cultural contribution that they make to the UK, and the positive impact they have on society and our emotional and mental wellbeing.
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to staging events safely. But if we all work together, we can mitigate the risks, save the UK events sector and return to enjoying the full-sensory, real-life shared experiences and interactions that connect us to others, create lasting memories and bring us so much joy and happiness.