Crisis, context and continuity

We have seen several major crises in the global events industry over the years. In September 2001 the attack on the World Trade Centre had an immediate and devastating impact on the industry. Sydney had received international acclaim for staging the 2000 Olympic Games and the events industry was on a high. Australia was a preferred destination for thousands of business tourists who came here for conferences and incentive programs. When 9/11 hit, the travel industry was thrown into chaos. Events and hospitality followed. Jobs were lost and businesses closed. A climate of fear and apprehension prevailed.

In 2008-09 we had the Global Financial Crisis triggered by a collapse in the US financial sector. This caused huge problems for the events industry but for quite different reasons than 9/11. In a financial crisis, companies immediately move to cut costs and events are often the low hanging fruit. In a financial crisis consumers tend to stop spending for a period of time. In Australia, the government took very timely and powerful measures to mitigate the effects of the GFC by stimulating the economy through monetary policy, underwriting the banks and other measures. As a result, Australia’s recovery from the GFC was widely acknowledged as a triumph of public policy. Nevertheless, businesses did fail and the events industry did suffer.

But as with 9/11, smart leaders responded creatively to the crisis, new entrants saw opportunity in disruption and the industry recovered to be stronger than ever.

What I have learned from experiencing these crises is that the global events industry is here to stay. It is a remarkably creative and resilient industry and it will bounce back

The COVID-19 crisis is different again. We have had pandemics in the past but we’ve seen nothing like the current scope of contagion or the wide-ranging response from governments around the world. In any crisis, uncertainty, complexity and even chaos are very active forces in society. We see this with some of the irrational panic buying at the moment. The need for social distancing results in restrictions on mass gatherings which has led to the cancellation of major events all around the world. This has an immediate effect on the industry and the economy because events contribute billions of dollars of revenue and along with the hospitality and tourism sectors are major employers.

Governments must act promptly and effectively to not only manage the spread of the virus but to ease the panic and support business, the community and the economy. In Australia, we appear to be responding quite well on all fronts at the moment.

Clearly, the overall effect on the industry in the short term will be negative. The biggest challenge is the uncertainty. What we do know, however, is that pandemics are not permanent and this one will pass. As the economy regains strength so will our industry and events are often the first indicators of a recovery. People need people. We are social beings. The events industry is built on this strong, human foundation.

What I have learned from experiencing these crises over the decades is that the global events industry is here to stay. It is a remarkably creative and resilient industry and it will bounce back. The major events that have been cancelled will return. Government will support the sector. Venues will re-open. Weddings, conferences and festivals will be back. Disruption is an opportunity for innovation and creativity and I strongly believe that our industry will recover quickly and very strongly once the pandemic eases.

It is highly likely that pent up demand will result in a huge surge in the industry over the medium term. 

For anyone preparing to enter the industry I believe the opportunities will be rich. As social distancing eases and events return, companies will need talent to reboot the industry and there will be more jobs for dedicated, well-trained professional career starters.

So, don’t despair. Keep focussing on your goals, maintain your optimism and be an example to others of the resilience and creativity our industry prides itself on.

Finally, stay safe, act responsibly, care for others and please follow advice from reputable sources on mitigation measures for COVID-19.

We hope to see you studying at College of Event Management soon.

Crisis, context and continuity

Boris Kelly
Managing Director


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