Coronavirus: Event planner says industry brought 'to its knees' by COVID-19

The wedding industry has been "massively" impacted.
The wedding industry has been "massively" impacted. Photo credit: Getty.

An event planner says the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting lockdowns have brought the industry "to its knees" and disagrees with "blanket" restrictions being imposed on events.

Survey results out on Monday from the New Zealand Events Association (NZEA) showed 20,000 events had either been cancelled or postponed as a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic, representing 50 percent of events planned for the year.

In an effort to stem the spread of the potentially-fatal virus, the Government has imposed a raft of restrictions this year, including closing the border to foreigners and putting limits on the number of people able to gather.

All public gatherings are cancelled under alert level 4 lockdown, and even at alert level 2  - where the majority of the country currently sits - they can't have any more than 100 people. Event facilities like conference or concert venues can't have more than 100 people in a "defined space", meaning "a single indoor or outdoor space separated from other spaces". 

The Government has said these requirements are necessary as many of New Zealand's clusters have been linked to events, church services and social gatherings. 

Rebecca Tacon, the owner of Hawke's Bay-based events management company Planit Events, told Newshub the industry has taken a massive hit. 

"When there was the initial lockdown, we saw a massive wave of firstly postponements, followed by cancellations. We expected that when the country first went into lockdown," she said.

"Soon after that, we had a second wave of postponements and cancellations based on the knowledge that the borders weren't going to be open as soon as people thought they were."

Tacon said the wedding industry has been "massively" impacted. As many friends and families from overseas can't currently get into the country, people are deciding to postpone their weddings for up to 18 months.

"The third wave was when we went back very swiftly into level 2 from level 1. As an industry, it felt like we were starting to get somewhere. We had events planned again, we had confidence and then, again within days of that announcement, we had a whole new wave of postponements and cancellations, which was just devastating. Absolutely devastating." 

She said her focus both personally and for her business was health and doesn't disagree with many of the measures the Government is taking.

However, Tacon said there is ways of conducting events safely without "having a blanket rule of restricting numbers". 

"We had an event that we had to cancel that had large numbers. We could have absolutely pulled that event off very safely and ticked all the boxes but we weren't given the option to even try because it was over 100 people, it had to be cancelled.

"It was the second time it had been cancelled and [it was] a huge expense to us because we had paid for the marketing, we were two weeks away from that event. We don't get to claim insurance to get that money back. It is about this blanket rule, which is really affecting the industry.

"Event professionals have the ability to put on larger events very safely."

While alert level 1 doesn't have any restrictions on event numbers, Tacon said the potential for the country or specific regions to jump back up alert levels creates uncertainty. The Government has previously said lockdowns are the absolute last resort and instead wants to use the country's contact tracing capacity to quickly identify and isolate any new cases.

"Large events, it is really frightening and impossible to plan for… the smaller events that are 100 and under, it will become a little bit of having to be business as usual until we have the confidence that we are going to be able to remain at a certain alert level," Tacon said.

"Purely based on uncertainty of the in and out of the alert levels. People are scared. For private events, people are totally unsure when borders are going to be open, like the weddings, and when should they plan for those.

"The larger events, the corporate events and the charity events, they don't want to be paying money towards the planning and the execution of the events to then have to either postpone or cancel it if it can't go ahead."

Ultimately, Tacon said, it is just a waiting game. But it's one affecting a range of businesses.

"The event industry as a whole has been brought to its knees. It is an industry that, the flow-on effect is massive, there is so many small businesses that are really affected. 

"We are not just venues, there are photographers, and sound and lighting companies, and hair and makeup artists, and there are a lot of businesses really hurting in the event industry and we are just desperate for some love and some support."

According to the NZEA survey, employers have had to cut their workforce by 35 percent from pre-COVID-19 staffing levels. The association says it is considers that a "conservative" estimate given the high number of contractors and part-time workers in the sector. It estimates the financial loss to the sector between March and August 2020 to be in excess of $570 million. 

NZEA wants clear language used that differentiates between "controlled events" and "social and mass gatherings", the Government to work with the sector to define guidelines, greater certainty around alert level moves, and targeted support.

Across all sectors, the Government has paid out $13.7 billion through its wage subsidy schemes. Recently, when Auckland was forced back into lockdown due to an outbreak, the Government introduced a two-week subsidy that was available nationwide in recognition of the effect Auckland's shut down would have on the rest of the country.

Two-hundred events will also share $10 million from the Domestic Events Fund