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‘Safe in One Place’ virtual roundtable debates key issues for the events industry

Emirates Old Trafford recently brought together a panel of event industry experts to debate key issues for the industry ahead of the proposed re-opening of the sector on 1 October.

Those that took part in the event included: Daniel Gidney, CEO of Lancashire Cricket and Emirates Old Trafford; Sheona Southern, managing director of Marketing Manchester; and Ian Nuttall, CEO of events agency Xperiology, alongside the Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham. Conference News editor Martin Fullard chaired the session.

The hour-long session, which received over 300 registrations, was part of Emirates Old Trafford’s ‘Safe in One Place’ campaign, which aims to share best practice and insight gained from hosting Test Match cricket in a bio-secure environment.

During the discussion, the panellists outlined the need for better testing arrangements before a return can be considered for non-socially distanced events, as well as a need for clearer government guidance on the precise measures required for the event industry to reopen on 1 October. Additionally, questions were raised about the stipulations placed upon other consumer industries involving large numbers of people and why events seem to be categorised differently by the government, to this point. 

Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, was clear that events should only return when it is safe to do so: “My advice to the industry would be to focus on October 1, get in place the arrangements for a safe return and learn from the experience at Emirates Old Trafford. We want what you want, which is an events industry to be operating as quickly as possible and our interests are completely aligned, but we've got to do it safely. It won't help the industry if everyone is lobbying like mad, we rush back and then have setbacks, which push things back.”

Commenting on the need for more effective testing and better implementation of track and trace, Burnham said: “I came on this call following a long discussion with the Government about what more we need to do now to tighten the net, so that the minute a case arises we can chase it down. We are getting to a point where soon we will have much more confidence in those arrangements.

Daniel Gidney, CEO of Lancashire Cricket, agreed that testing is key to getting businesses and events back on track: “Testing gives people confidence. We need Government approval on 90-minute testing kits, that will be a game-changer. It’s not a silver bullet: you still need a number of mitigations. I would still have thermo screening, take the delegate details for test and trace, still have one-way systems, hand gels, PPE and masks and, of course, social distancing. Ultimately, when people are paying for delegate, exhibitor or sponsorships spaces at an event, the cost of a single 90-minute testing kit is between £100 and £150 and that might become a cost of the industry.”

The mounting financial impact of the pandemic was a key concern for all panellists. Managing director of Marketing Manchester, Sheona Southern, stated: “The impact of the visitor attraction economy has just been catastrophic. Just like many other cities and regions both on leisure and on business, the tourism sector is absolutely on its knees. We have a tourism analyst here at Marketing Manchester who estimated our volume and value; by the end of August we will have lost almost 47% of the annual £9bn visitor economy which is £4.2bn. Burnham mentioned confidence across event organisers and attendees, confidence is just so low. Guidance has often been very confusing and complex, and it keeps changing so that doesn't help.

“The guidelines are important, and the messaging has been complex. The message from us is to keep things simple and ensure clients, delegates and anyone involved in events, to stay safe. It's a real shame that the pilot events have been cancelled because we could have learnt a lot from that, and there are a lot of good learnings from the retail sector too in how they've dealt with it.”

Ian Nuttall, CEO of Xperiology, shared the concerns of many event operators regarding the lack of formal Government guidance: “We had events planned in February and March that we pushed back to September: we thought five months was enough time, it’s not and we are now looking at alternative dates again. The industry wants to restart for 1 October, but we need the guidance. Two metres distance, 10sqm per person, it just doesn’t work.

“I’m scratching my head that my wife can get on a plane and fly to Italy, sat next to 300 other people in a tiny metal capsule for three hours with a mask on, and that is considered safe. Yet I can’t put 500 people in a 2000sqm event space with the doors open or put them outside.”

Watch the full roundtable here.