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Relaxed capacities don’t mean relaxed protocols.

Few industries suffered under the ongoing South African COVID-19 lockdown to the same extent as the beleaguered events and exhibitions industries. Finally, after 20 long months, we have arrived at Alert Level 1 where capacities have been relaxed to accommodate 750 people indoor and 2000 outdoors, spectators are being allowed into sporting events and pilot projects for larger capacities are in the planning stages.

The industry and its diverse supply chain of organisers, production teams, performers, venues, AV/technical production, on-site event logistics, risk management and security services, event photography, and relevant travel/transport/catering and accommodation partners, finally have the opportunity to resume work, albeit on a reduced scale. The excitement is palpable as planning starts to resume and stakeholders discuss what 2022 might hold for events.

However, the lockdown has been in place for so long, that COVID-fatigue has set in and as tired as we are of hearing what we should, or shouldn’t, be doing, we must ensure that the focus on safety awareness is not diluted in the wave of excitement. If we do not stand together as an industry, remain vigilant, vaccinate and help each other; we run the risk of suffering a major setback by damaging client and attendee confidence or worse still, inadvertently causing a spreader event.

Across the board, our clients want to feel secure when mounting an event. Ellen Oosthuizen, Chairperson of the Professional Conference Organisers Alliance highlighted a new trend surfacing amongst corporate clients. “Some of our clients are requesting that we only put forward venues and production teams where staff and organisers are fully vaccinated, so this is becoming a pre-requisite for events. Along with that, the venue must be demonstrably safety-savvy from arrival. Clients want to see all safety protocols in place; from having the TV control in a plastic cover and having no magazines on the coffee table/desk, to wiping the microphone down between speakers and having food individually wrapped rather than open buffet-style catering,” she says.

“The exhibition industry is prepped and ready for lift-off; all we need is the go-ahead from Government. We have evaluated our protocols, collaborated with our suppliers and venues, and are currently educating our exhibitors and sponsors on the new ways of doing business at exhibitions,” adds Projeni Pather, Chairperson of the Association for African Exhibition Organisers. “Our expectations need to shift to work in line with our current and future environment. Our optimism has risen as Government has led the way, with the first large scale exhibition, IATF, Intra Africa Trade Fair happening this November at the Durban ICC; where an expected 10 000 visitors has been advertised. Following this major feat is SA Tourism’s announcement of dates for South Africa’s window to the world, Meetings Africa in February 2022, and Africa Travel Indaba in May 2022. To keep up the momentum, we will continue to work with Government to ensure the swift reopening of the exhibition industry.”

Justin Van Wyk, CEO of Big Concerts, deals with much larger live entertainment events and has been working closely with Business4SA to make vaccinations easily accessible to all. He asserts that widespread vaccination is the key to reopening larger events and that it is up to everyone involved to take responsibility for safety. “Our clients trust us to implement, and comply with, all appropriate and reasonable safety measures recommended by any relevant government or competent authority (relating to COVID-19) in connection with our respective obligations to safeguard the health, safety, and well-being of all attendees, personnel, representatives, and invitees,” he says.” Big Concerts has just announced that tickets will go on sale this December for a One Direction tour in 2022, where the field will be open to vaccinated attendees only.

On this type of larger event, allocated seating, presold tickets, managing entrance and exit traffic flow and contact tracing are critical issues. It is much the same for sporting events, where the risk of jubilant spectators leaving their allocated seating to amass closer to the action is a real risk to everyone’s safety.

Tes Proos, President of the Society for Incentive Travel Excellence deals mainly with travel groups from abroad. “While I’ve had a few questions from international clients as to SA’s vaccination status, most concerns are about PCR testing for multi-destination trips in terms of impact on their trip and cost. Vaccination is a matter of choice and the impact is more on the employer from a financial and HR perspective. It remains to be seen whether vaccinations across the workplace can be made mandatory – it’s a very sensitive issue and should be properly investigated.”

Tes highlights the issue of people becoming more complacent because they are fully vaccinated, and then the rules go out of the window. “As an industry, we all practice what we preach and do everything possible to maintain safety protocols, but we are seeing transmission take place predominantly from irresponsible social interactions. We cannot police delegates’ behaviour outside our event zones and therefore encourage people to remain safe and follow protocols at all times,” she says.

As a coalition of associations that span a wide range of events, the team at the SA Events Council have realised that across business events, exhibitions, sporting or live entertainment events, there are basic safety principles that must be upheld consistently to keep the industry moving forward. With this in mind, we are encouraging all venues, organisers, suppliers, participants and attendees to remain mindful of the need to:

  • Mask up – No mask, no entry.

  • Do temperature checks – Anyone with a temperature higher than 37.5 should not be allowed to enter.

  • Maintain social distancing – provide, and adhere to, allocated seating and visitor flow management.

  • Sanitise regularly – Venues must be sanitised before attendees arrive, and preferably be refreshed during breaks. There should be visible sanitising stations throughout the venue, at all entrances and exits, bathrooms, food areas, on lecterns and on coffee tables during panel discussions. Event equipment such as microphones must be cleaned between each use.

  • Produce proof of health status - All attendees and staff must present proof of vaccination. If for medical or personal reasons they cannot be vaccinated, a negative COVID test should be presented.

  • Arrange contactless ticketing - preferably tickets to be sold online, in advance.

  • Track and Trace - All attendees must provide their name, surname, address and contact details for contact tracing.

As members of the events industry, we must bear in mind that our responsibilities do not begin and end with the event we are managing. We need to work together with suppliers that might be involved peripherally, especially if the event will take place over several days with attendees using transport shuttles, being hosted at designated hotels and dining in partnered restaurants. While it is not our place to police the protocols of associated partners, prior communication around expectations is a step towards keeping our attendees safe and we can certainly bring lapses to the attention of the GM or manager in a professional manner.

Let’s help each other to recover responsibly.


By Robyn D'Alessandro for SA Events Council

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