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  • Writer's pictureMike Lord

First to Close, Last to Reopen

Updated: Sep 17, 2020

As many will no doubt be aware the entire events industry of South Africa has been at a complete standstill since the ban on public gatherings was imposed by the President in March 2020. We were the first to close and will be the last to re-open.

Without a clearly defined plan of action for the reopening an industry that is currently collapsing, the hopes dreams of its people and the businesses within in this sector will die.

As we pass 120 days of lockdown, with cases of COVID-19 continuing to grow, the economy of South Africa continues to decline. We are in cardiac arrest and we need to do whatever we must to urgently rebuild our economy.

The events industry - primarily made up of small to medium enterprises - forms the roots of the trees making up the economic forest. Events connect and grow industries.

We need to put hope and trust back into corporate South Africa. To restart the events industry by getting back into boardrooms, coming together for meetings and hosting conferences. The holding and hosting of interactive live platforms allow the events industry to seed again and to start re-growing. It’s an ignition to the overall economy.

Without the platform that events like the Mining Indaba, Meetings Africa, Africa Travel Indaba, World Travel Market Africa, Electra Mining and the World Economic Forum create; our industries are not showcasing and growing the economy of our country.

COVID-19 is becoming an accepted way of living and we are learning how to interact with one another in a safe way keeping ourselves and others safe. Many of us are practicing what we need to do in order to stop the spread of this virus.

Based on these learnings, we believe that our industry can be trusted to arrange events in a safe, controlled and organised manner.

As custodians of the events industry, we know that bringing people together can potentially spread the virus, but we also know that there are practical steps that can be taken to allow us to congregate safely. Now more than ever we need to find a way to bring people together, to build hope and re-energise ourselves.

It is now time to get back to work, to reconnect and start rebuilding our economy using the events, conference, confex, exhibition and meeting platforms. It’s time to put our brands out there.

The events industry is uniting to do just that. On this front I am proud to lead the Event Safety Council, an affiliate of the global Event Safety Alliance. Working with our partners and association members as the South African Event Council we are drafting the way forward.

The Event Safety Council has been instrumental in developing Re-Opening Guidelines for getting the events industry back to work. As a collective we are working tirelessly to develop a plan and strategy for navigating the storm we are currently in.

The SA Event Council consists of 13 member associations with over 2,250 members, representing over 50,000 event professionals.

The work we have done developing the Re-Opening Guidelines is important for engaging with government and other stakeholders regarding how we open up the events industry safely. As representatives of the events industry sector, we believe that a consistent, national approach is the only practical means for us to re-open events safely while COVID-19 is still prevalent.

We believe a phased plan will be acceptable to both the government and the entities representing it, working closely with the South African Police Services and the various local authorities currently governing events across South Africa using the existing safety protocols.

The Guidelines are based upon a 5-tiered risk exposure model advocated by the World Health Organisation and incorporate the 4 cornerstones of prevention and control:

  1. Social-distancing including personal protective equipment.

  2. Protect and detect systems incorporating effective risk assessment protocols and screening processes based on DoH guidelines and DoEL Directions.

  3. Communication and data management protocols including technological contact tracing processes.

  4. Effective personal hygiene, cleaning and sanitisation protocols.

Event management processes incorporating these elements, coupled with the government’s risk adjusted approach and our industry Re-Opening Guidelines and with public and private sector collaborating, this will allow events to be hosted in a safe, controlled and organised manner.

Using a framework that meet the requirements of the Department of Health and Department of Employment and Labour, events can be reopened safely and within a timeframe that prevents the closure of a vast number of businesses and the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs over the next 2 to 3 months.

The Southern African Association for the Conference Industry (SAACI) and the SA Events Council held a very successful “Proof of Concept” business conference on the 22nd July simultaneously across 5 cities across South Africa. Delegates joined us in person in conference rooms in Johannesburg, Cape Town, Tshwane, Nelson Mandela Bay and eThekwini, proving that events can be held safely with the right protocols.

Each venue had 50 attendees with many delegates interacting with us online. This national business conference was a huge success. The energy and excitement shared by each attendee was palpable. People were energised and eager to get our industry back on its feet. The business conference was compliant with all the applicable Regulations and Directions.

Meeting and networking highlighted the importance of face-to-face engagement and the ideas shared reiterated why it is so important to bring people together.

The SA Event Council, in conjunction with our partners and stakeholders, continues to provide platforms and strategies that highlight the plight of the events industry and are embarking on many initiatives directed towards finding solutions to re-open the sector as soon as possible.

We continue to engage with government on a national level and ask them to trust us and work with us in plotting the way forward. We ask the government, our provinces and our cities to keep working with us to re-ignite our industry and to find ways to rebuild, before what has taken decades to build is permanently lost.

Now more than ever we need to come together.


Mike Lord is the Interim Chair: Event Safety Council and a member of the SA Events Council

as well as the Director: Alliance Safety Management

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