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12 Aug 2020

‘Safe in One Place’ virtual roundtable debates key issues for the events industry

A panel of leading event industry experts, brought together by Emirates Old Trafford, has been debating the key issues for the £70bn event industry* ahead of the proposed re-opening of the sector on October 1, following the Coronavirus pandemic.

The event featured Daniel Gidney, CEO of Lancashire Cricket and Emirates Old Trafford, Sheona Southern, Managing Director of Marketing Manchester - the official agency charged with promoting Greater Manchester on the national and international stage - and Ian Nuttall, CEO of leading events agency Xperiology, alongside the Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham.

The hour-long session, which received over 300 registrations from event industry professionals, was part of Emirates Old Trafford’s ‘Safe in One Place’ campaign - an initiative aimed at sharing best practice and insight gained from hosting Test Match cricket in a bio-secure environment this Summer, which saw the venue host international players in the on-site Hilton Garden Inn hotel.

During the in-depth and wide-ranging discussion the panellists outlined the need for better testing arrangements before a full-blown return for non-socially distanced events can be considered, as well as a need for clearer Government guidance on the precise measures required for the event industry to reopen on October 1. Additionally, questions were raised about the stipulations placed upon other consumer industries involving large numbers of people and why events seem to be categorised differently by the Government, to this point. 

Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, was clear that events should only return when it is safe to do so: “My advice to the industry would be to focus on October 1, get in place the arrangements for a safe return and learn from the experience at Emirates Old Trafford. We want what you want, which is an events industry to be operating as quickly as possible and our interests are completely aligned, but we've got to do it safely. It won't help the industry if everyone is lobbying like mad, we rush back and then have setbacks, which push things back.”

Commenting on the need for more effective testing and better implementation of test and trace, Burnham commented: “I came on this call following a long discussion with the Government about what more we need to do now to tighten the net, so that the minute a case arises we can chase it down. We are getting to a point where soon we will have much more confidence in those arrangements.”

Daniel Gidney, CEO, Lancashire Cricket agreed with Burnham’s sentiment that testing is key to getting businesses and events back on track: “Testing gives people confidence. We need Government approval on 90-minute testing kits, that will be a game-changer. It’s not a silver bullet: you still need a number of mitigations. I would still have thermo screening, take the delegate details for test and trace, still have one-way systems, hand gels, PPE and masks and, of course, social distancing. Ultimately, when people are paying for delegate, exhibitor or sponsorships spaces at an event, the cost of a single 90-minute testing kit is between £100 and £150 and that might become a cost of the industry.”

The mounting financial impact of the pandemic was a key concern for all panellists with Sheona Southern, Managing Director of Marketing Manchester stating: “The impact of the visitor attraction economy has just been catastrophic. Just like many other cities and regions both on leisure and on business, the tourism sector is absolutely on its knees. We have a tourism analyst here at Marketing Manchester who estimated our volume and value; by the end of August we will have lost almost 47% of the annual £9 billion visitor economy which is £4.2 billion. Andy [Burnham] mentioned confidence across event organisers and attendees, confidence is just so low. Guidance has often been very confusing and complex, and it keeps changing so that doesn't help.

“The guidelines are important, and the messaging has been complex. The message from us is to keep things simple and ensure clients, delegates and anyone involved in events, to stay safe. It's a real shame that the pilot events have been cancelled because we could have learnt a lot from that, and there are a lot of good learnings from the retail sector too in how they've dealt with it”, Southern added regarding the lack of clear guidelines laid out for venue owners and attendees.

Ian Nuttall, CEO of Xperiology, shared the concerns of many event operators up and down the country regarding the lack of formal Government guidance: “We had events planned in February and March that we pushed back to September: we thought five months was enough time, it’s not and we are now looking at alternative dates again. The industry wants to restart for October 1, but we need the guidance. Two metres distance, 10sqm per person, it just doesn’t work.

“I’m scratching my head that my wife can get on a plane and fly to Italy, sat next to 300 other people in a tiny metal capsule for three hours with a mask on, and that is considered safe. Yet I can’t put 500 people in a 2000sqm event space with the doors open or put them outside”, Nuttall observed.

Fresh from staging three Test Matches this summer - the first International cricket fixtures to be played since the Coronavirus pandemic - Emirates Old Trafford has unveiled ‘Safe in One Place’, a new initiative that highlights the measures required to host events, in line with current Government guidelines. 

At launch, a document outlining key learnings and best practice was made available for event industry professionals to download via the Emirates Old Trafford website. The guidance includes the very latest practical information to ensure event organisers and venue operators in the UK understand how they can work and host business events and conferences, while keeping both guests and staff safe.