SAEC – LOOKING BACK AT A YEAR OF CHANGE
So here we are at the end of May 2021, with a COVID-19 third wave looming and with it, potential further restrictions on the exhibitions and events industry. The SA Events Council is fighting to retain the headway we have made towards re-opening the events industry before the losses we are suffering reach a point of no return.
For 14 months, the Associations that make up the SA Events Council have collaborated on various measures to re-open the industry. We have developed a stringent set of Re-opening Guidelines, sent scores of lobbying letters and hosted in-person, proof-of-concept events to show what is possible. We have also conducted awareness campaigns, hosted webinars, organised radio and television Interviews, provided information sessions and engaged with the various relevant government entities in person.
As one of the first responders to the crisis, SACIA’s Event Safety Council developed and disseminated the back-to-work Re-opening Guidelines, which immediately set the parameters for a safe re-opening of the events industry. This development was the catalyst for the industry to start providing solutions for the re-opening of events.
A host of advocacy letters to Hon. Minister Kubayi-Ngubani, the Department of Tourism, Hon. Minister Mthethwa, the Department of Sports Arts and Culture and the Hon. Minister Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, followed. These made a case for Business events versus Social events, called for re-opening and relaxations of the capacity limitation restrictions, requested assistance from financial institutions and the extension of TERS, sought clarification of regulations at each new Alert Level and drew attention to lack of safety enforcement on non-compliant rallies and other events.
Over the same period, the SAEC held four proof-of-concept events. The Proof of Concept Conference specifically targeted conferencing stakeholders. Reignite your Business educated the corporate sector and the Restart Expo showcased the safe future of exhibitions to the Government, industry, media, PCO’s, exhibitors and visitors. By the end of 2020, with the advent of rapid testing technology, Recharge 2020 demonstrated how rapid antigen testing builds confidence and mitigates risk when used in conjunction with the Re-opening Protocols and secure Health Passport Europe mobile technology.
SAEC continues to update, inform and prepare the industry through educational events including the Event Safety Protocols presentation to Business Owners, Event Producers, Event Managers and Event Suppliers (24 October 2020), the Customer-Centric: Practical Implementation & Building Trust Workshop (19 March 2021) and the Industry Update Session (25 March 2021). Further information sessions in the other provinces are being planned for the near future.
Despite the SAEC drive to inform and prepare the industry, some organisers outside of the SAEC Associations continued to host events that disregarded the safety guidelines and resulted in a viral spread, further jeopardising our chances of re-opening. In these instances, the Council drew government attention to the transgressions, laid charges with SAPs against the organisers and called for stricter enforcement from policing bodies.
The various awareness campaigns mounted over the past year received tremendous support from the industry. On Thursday, 18 June 2020, the SA Events Council ran the #ReopenExhibitionsandEvents Twitter storm to amplify our collective plea to policymakers, highlight the power of our industry and lobby for the re-opening of exhibitions.
#LightSARed on 5 August 2020 saw 505 landmark buildings, event spaces and warehouses across the country light up in emergency red to show solidarity with the events industry’s plight. This campaign also managed to secure the events and exhibitions sector a “seat at the table”, allowing elected leaders from the events industry to engage with the Government for the first time on ways of re-opening the sector safely and quickly.
A media storm on 25 November as part of SAEC’s #50PercentCapacity campaign called on the Government to recognise that the restriction of 250 people indoors in a vast exhibition hall is unworkable and not financially viable without uncapped 50 per cent venue capacity.
The long-term #trustus campaign currently works across radio, print and social media platforms to overturn the negative sentiment that has grown around events. The campaign aims to rebuild confidence in the event sector’s ability to provide solutions to keep attendees safe, train up our venues and event staff, grow businesses, provide job creation, contribute to economic recovery and assist with the vaccination drive. #Trustus evokes positivity around events and positions the events and exhibitions industry as part of the recovery narrative.
The Council has worked hard to highlight the ongoing crisis through dozens of interviews across radio and television and has kept the industry informed via in-person participation in over twenty professionally managed events and ten webinars.
The campaigns resulted in a series of meetings with the Director-General, Deputy Director-General and the team of the Department of Sports, Arts and Culture, the Department of Tourism and SSBD to present the 22-point re-opening plan and to work on a phased re-opening based on the protocols set out in the Event Re-Opening Guidelines.
SAEC’s ongoing governmental engagement employs a two-pronged approach with Council representation in both groups. One team is working closely with the Department of Tourism and the SA National Convention Bureau to re-open business events. The other, the Ministerial Advisory Team (MAT), reports directly to the Minister of Sports, Arts and Culture and serves the broader live and sporting events. The MAT is involved in finding solutions to general industry issues such as our industry members’ inability to pay rentals, school fees or loans and the lack of financial and wellness support.
Despite our efforts, business events are still limited to an impractical indoor capacity of 250, whilst shopping centres and markets cater to many more, with no issues whatsoever. We need to fast-track a practical re-opening solution with urgency, but with the current focus on the vaccination rollout and the increasing infection rate, our efforts are again on hold.
The African Association of Exhibition Organisers (AAXO), in partnership with the Exhibition and Event Association of Southern Africa (EXSA), is now leading an industry move to liaise with the Government via legal team, Mabuza Attorneys. The Associations sent a legal letter to Minister Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, to establish a reasonable and workable solution for permitted capacities and recognise business events as organised, professional and controlled meetings. The Minister’s legal team has acknowledged receipt of this letter, and we look forward to finalising a meeting date.
One of our Exhibition Organisers has already won an urgent appeal in court against the Government’s classification of events and venues in their regulations and the Exhibition in question was granted attendance figures at 50% venue capacity. This win sets a welcome precedent and while it in no way allows others to operate in the same context, it shows that, with ongoing pressure, we CAN successfully amend the regulations.
The events and exhibitions sector has successfully pivoted to the new normal; all we need is to be allowed to work sustainably. There will be no turning back until our industry prevails.