Event industry sets out to prove it's got safety down pat, hoping for bigger gatherings

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Spier (Supplied)
Spier (Supplied)

  • The events industry is set on demonstrating that it can safely host gatherings larger than 50 people.
  • Business and conference events have been allowed to restart under certain guidelines three weeks ago.
  • Venues are coming up with innovative ideas to host events in line with Covid-19 protocols.


It has been three weeks since the announcement of lockdown regulations allowing for business events and conference venues to operate under clear guidelines.

"While the proposed number of 50 people allowed for gatherings is small, we believe that in demonstrating that the sector can deal with all the legislative requirements, the numbers can increase beyond 100 in the coming months," says Glenton De Kock, CEO of the Southern African Association for the Conference Industry (SAACI).

 "We do encourage government to consider re-opening exhibitions in the coming months as the Events Safety Guidelines are comprehensive and will ensure track-and-tracing inclusive of pre-screening for delegates and visitors to any size exhibition."

While the use of technology is welcome and has allowed people to keep connected, De Kock believes the need for human interaction will not be lost.

"Our sector will ensure this happens in a responsible manner as we slowly recover with the assistance of technology. There are pockets of activity across the country as the business events sector slowly re-opens," says De Kock.

"Longer lead times to allow better preparations is a common operating requirement due to the need to prepare venues and also ensure that all attendees have completed the required documentation."

He says the need to allow weddings and wedding venues to operate under the event safety protocols is a challenge that needs attention from government in the coming months.

In partnership with the SA Event Council and the Event Safety Council, SAACI intends to host a five-city "proof of concept" conference next week, based on the directions issued for the sector.

"With the event industry already carrying out comprehensive risk assessment, safety checks and logistical planning for every event, the inclusion of a Covid-19 mitigation plan as an extension of existing event planning mechanisms is easily achievable," says De Kock. 

"The pandemic has ushered accelerated new ways of organising online business meetings, conferences and other events. Blended (hybrid) meetings, which combine virtual with face-to-face interactions, will become the norm."

 Movement restricted

Tshifhiwa Tshivhengwa, CEO of the Tourism Business Council of SA (TBCSA), feels movement – especially inter-provincial – is still too restricted under the lockdown regulations in order to really stimulate activity in the meetings, incentives, conventions and exhibitions (MICE) sector.

The fact that many major big hotels are still closed also indicates to him that it is still not profitable for them to open, even for small meetings. 

"I think we ought to look into what more government can allow us in terms of increasing the number of people that can have meetings." Children are already allowed to go to school safely, for instance, says Tshivhengwa. 

"One cannot open a whole property just for a meeting of a few hours. The chain of tourism works together. Hotels will open if there is travel, and then the meetings sector will benefit."

Innovation

Alderman James Vos, the City of Cape Town's Mayoral Committee Member for Economic Opportunities and Asset Management, says the pandemic had a devastating effect on the local MICE industry.

Cape Town ranked as the top city for hosting international association meetings in Africa, according to the 2019 International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA) Statistics Report.

The Cape Town and the Western Cape Convention Bureau secured 46 new business events, totalling an estimated R900 million economic impact for the city and province for the 2019/ 2020 financial year. During the past ten years (2010-2019), Cape Town has hosted 483 international association conferences.

Vos recently took a look at the readiness of the Century City Conference Centre and Hotel to adapt to the "new normal" by having Covid-19 health and safety protocols in place.

More than R1.5 million was invested to ensure that both the conference centre and hotel is fully compliant to assist in combatting the spread of Covid-19. This included the redesign of the restaurant and business lounge.

"I was pleased to observe the extent of the protocols in place to ensure the safety of guests, which included sanitiser stations positioned at all entry points in the building. I was especially impressed with the digital contactless screening," says Vos.

He also noticed an increased frequency of cleaning and sanitising, with sanitiser stations positioned at all conference and meeting rooms, lift landings, as well as public spaces and bathrooms. Once a meeting room is disinfected, a seal is placed on the exterior of the door allowing no entry until a new group arrives.

As part of adapting to the current environment, the Century City Conference Centre also introduced a "virtual" conference centre, which is allowing events to continue. Events can be hosted as a 100% virtual solution or a "hybrid" offering.

For Vos innovations like these will ensure that Cape Town remains a destination of choice for the MICE industry.

Another example is the Spier Wine Estate near Stellenbosch, which has launched "hybrid and virtual" conferencing offerings.

"Since the start of the pandemic we immediately switched to innovation mode and have been able to re-invent some parts of our business to continue serving customers," says Spier general manager Joep Schoof.

For delegates who do attend in person, the estate offers many outdoor spaces and spacious venues where physical distancing is easy during meetings, breakouts and meals.

The estate has developed special conferencing seat plans to accommodate physical distancing protocols and venues are deep cleaned after each event and used pens and notepads are recycled. Sanitising wipes are available for delegates to use and all food and beverage items will be individually plated and served instead.

According to Helene Vermaak, business director at corporate cultural company The Human Edge, the main reason that many virtual meetings are "ineffective" is that there is little to no "accountability" for engagement.

She explains that meetings are hosted for different reasons – to influence others, make decisions, solve problems or strengthen relationships – but for it to be effective and a good use of everyone's time and skills, voluntary engagement is a must.

Yet she expects virtual meetings are here to stay "indefinitely".

From the 1 to the 30 September 2020, dmg events will be hosting the e-Food & Hospitality Next Summit - a dedicated digital food and hospitality experience. This cyber offering is one of several developed by dmg in the wake of the Covid-19 crisis to keep industries connected and ensure that conversation continues.

According to the company's vice president Devi Paulsen-Abbott, "our digital offerings are designed to help the industries we support to plan for and create economic activity in the post-pandemic world".

She explains that dmg’s digital shift has been designed to address short-to-medium term issues and opportunities that are arising as waves of the market re-open.

Offerings that have emerged have included Transport Evolution World's Coffee with the CEO series and the Big 5 Digital Festival of Construction Africa 2020.

A new hi-tech virtual "travel show" will take place over 16 days in August and is scheduled within geographical regions to accommodate time zones.

Launched on 9 July 2020, OurAfrica.Travel 2020 replaces the industry's traditional exhibitions, which are a critical marketing, sales and networking tool for businesses in the travel and tourism sector.

Instead, OurAfrica.Travel will connect African suppliers such as hotels, lodges, activity operators and inbound operators with global buyers, via pre-scheduled one-on-one, face-to-face virtual meetings.

Co-founder Storm Napier says the team has been overwhelmed by the response from exhibitors and buyers alike. Over 120 buyers have signed up to date.

As Sun International welcomes guests back to its casinos and hotels, with strict social distancing protocols, the company has also made virtual conferencing available.

"Virtual conferencing will use high-tech connectivity solutions, break down distance barriers and allow companies to create endless themes that enhance their business objectives," said Sun City general manager Brett Hoppé.
 
Sun International's virtual conferencing training or meeting platforms can accommodate small or big sessions of more than 500 delegates, with different links from each presenter or organiser.

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