Save Victorian Events is lobbying for our events industry – and the pop up sector
It goes without saying… most of us experienced a massive upset in early 2020, as COVID-19 swept around the world. Not only were we faced with an ominous and un-predictable threat to our health, we were told our way of life had to change. The pandemic affected the way we socialise, exercise, shop, learn – and do business.
Over the past 18+ months the Australian federal and state governments have responded in waves, by introducing restrictions and lockdowns… sometimes tardy, often harsh. We’ve had our routines re-set… sometimes we go back to (almost) normal, other times it seems we’ll never be the same.
Many industries have ridden those waves okay, some have actually thrived. But other sectors were hit early and hard, and are yet to recover. Their core businesses were suddenly closed down, and haven’t re-opened.
Amongst those still struggling to survive is the “events industry”. It seems little was known (or appreciated) of the events sector within the corridors of government, it was just something taken for granted. But the industry is significantly invested with infrastructure and facilities – and employs thousands of people. “Events” aren’t only business meetings and trade shows but also public gatherings – large and small. The industry is a significant contributor to our economy – also creating opportunities in tourism, hospitality and allied industries, pouring millions of dollars into government coffers. All of that stopped (in Victoria) in March last year, when business and public events were banned. The sector hasn’t yet re-opened, and government support for the events industry has been sadly lacking.
In addition to venues sitting idle and warehouses full of stock, there are loads of people still affected by the lack of work. Many of those employees are quite specialised, and dedicated to the odd requirements (and hours) required by the industry. Others were itinerant workers paying their way around the country / through studies / supplementing their incomes. Most of the businesses and individuals involved in our once-thriving events industry have had to find other ways to survive the pandemic – there just aren’t any projects, none on the horizon and the future still looks bleak.
Mid-way through 2020 a group of concerned individuals banded together to form Save Victorian Events, to raise awareness of the flagging events industry and lobby for government support. The Save Victorian Events team (SVE) have been working tirelessly to raise the profile of their sector, specifically seeking state government assistance via funding support (at least on par with other affected industries), proactive planning (for a way out of this mess) – and to lead by example (create events as soon as possible, and show some commitment to the way forward)
Simon Thewlis is one of the founders of SVE, and managing director of Melbourne based events business Event Pty Ltd. For decades he has produced major public events through to a variety of business events, and is a major spokesperson for the SVE advocacy. Simon says :
“…we need to re-imagine what events can be. Many people are thinking in terms of either doing things as they have always done, or simply producing a livestream experience instead. But this misses the point about what makes events so special and powerful. At its heart, an event is a shared experience. Whether the experience is shared with five people, five hundred or five thousand people, it doesn’t really matter. It is the fact that it is an experience that’s shared with other people.
It is possible to share information with people who are sitting at home by themselves and at their computers, but this will never be a shared experience, it will never be an event. It doesn’t have the warmth, energy or the emotional contagion that you get when you are physically together with other people – it doesn’t have the bonding or the lasting impact of an event. It might be a while before we can get everyone together [in large groups] again in one big room. In the meantime, we can still think of creative ways to get (people) together…”.#
SVE has had few wins in their campaign to date – nothing has really changed to improve the plight (or future) of the local events industry. This is despite Victorian MP’s being bombarded with emails and calls from 1300+ SVE members, questions raised in parliament, and extensive meetings / hearings at government level. Back in March this year the group rallied in front of the Victorian parliament – SVE advocates stood on the steps as a long line of “branded event vans” circled with horns blaring. They’ve had many set-backs, watching on as other sectors successfully “won” government support, and only minor changes have been made to the classifications of restricted events, allowable crowd densities etc… This week the Federal and Victorian governments boasted extra funding – for licensed hospitality businesses, gyms, cafes, hairdressers and alpine businesses (among others) – but again it seems there’s nothing specific for event operators nor suppliers.
In the meantime, events are still being planned (tentatively). Many of the large trade and public shows had hoped to open again earlier this year, but had to cancel due to continued restrictions (or low exhibitor / visitor expectations). But Reed Gift Fairs are currently aiming for a return to Melbourne in September, whilst the Tattoo expo is planning events in 4 cities July through to December this year – and Sexpo is taking bookings for visitors in Sydney (October 29-31) and Melbourne (November 5-7). Ironically, the tattoo and Sexpo events both feature and promote “personal / intimate” services… not quite the safest industries during a viral pandemic !
I’d say that “pop up shops” fall into an “events” classification, as we build temporary installations and we create short-term destinations. We’re not a big player in this sector, and we’re closely aligned with the retail industry (also hugely impacted by the lockdowns / restrictions). Like trade and public events, pop ups have been pretty-much dormant since early 2020, just awaiting a green light to re-open.
At instant retail we provide (hired) fittings for all kinds of temporary events, including pop up shops. Much of our work is at public events, often working with the event organisers or venue managers, as well as servicing exhibitors and specialist installations.
The COVID-19 restrictions and cancellations have had a massive impact on our business, starting back in February 2020 when the F1 Grand Prix was cancelled (which affected another event we’d supplied in St Kilda… the City of Port Phillip Bushfire Recovery Project was suddenly closed mid-run, and never re-opened)
Since then, we’ve supplied very few public projects. “High Street retail” has been so unpredictable that small “pop up” operators have no confidence to plan ahead or confirm their dates and requirements. Some have taken a punt and gone ahead, only to be closed down mid-way due to COVID restrictions. We’ve had stock out on hire which is suddenly locked in – for weeks on end – with our customers (the event organisers) unsure when they might get in to resume trading, or just to pack up.
Much of our work over the past year has been quoting on events which haven’t yet materialised… We’ve accepted payments on projects, only to refund when the events don’t proceed. And our warehouse has been mostly full for 18 months… not much moves out on hire !
Looking ahead though, I’m quite positive that the “pop up shop” industry will be in demand again once restrictions ease and customers have more confidence for short-term planning. Many of our “retailer” customers have warehouses groaning with stock, which they’ll need to move quickly. “Pop up” sales will be still a great option for businesses to reduce their inventory whilst connecting with customers (in-real-life, not on-line…)
On a personal level, I’ve been very grateful for (and supportive of) the actions by the Save Victorian Events team – hopefully their lobbying will achieve some acknowledgement and support for the ailing events industry. Not just in Victoria, but also in other Australian states and at federal level. I feel the “pop up shop” sector is being supported through their efforts. Thanks guys, for all your hard work !
Read more about the Save Victorian Events initiatives here
And watch this video on YouTube (Sky News interview – 15th July 2021)
images : Save Victorian Events, specialevents.com.au
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