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Summer fun or summer bummer

The summer events season is up in the air due to ongoing COVID-19 restrictions.

Hawke’s Bay is a magnet for major events over summer and as we remain at lockdown Level 2 (as of early October) our key events such as Horse of the Year, the Mission Concert, Art Deco  and many other outdoor concerts and festivals remain up in the air.

HOY and the Mission were also cancelled at the last minute in 2020 and although contingency plans are in place, if Auckland was to stay at a higher lockdown level or goes into a high lockdown level again, New Zealand’s largest equestrian event would be unlikely.

Already events such as Hawke’s Bay Racing’s Spring Carnival and the Hawke’s Bay A&P Show have been impacted, with the show being cancelled for only the second time in 158 years, the only other time being during World War 2.

The New Zealand Events Association has also postponed its own conference and awards event, which was due to be held in Napier in September, but has now been pushed out to December.

A hot topic at the event will be how the sector will recover from COVID-19. In fact the events headline name is ‘Eventing the Future’.

The conference, being held at the War Memorial Centre, has attracted some impressive key speakers such as Andrea Nelson, the CEO of the ICC Women’s Cricket World Cup and Minister for Tourism Hon. Stuart Nash.

Last year the Government provided $60 million to the events sector – a $10m Domestic Event Fund (DEF) and a $50m Regional Events Fund (REF).

Stuart is likely to be put under the spotlight as the sector looks for support as it navigates the economic impact of the pandemic.

A letter was sent to the minister in September by the NZ Events Association which said level 2 had ‘brought the sector to its knees’.

The association has asked the government to consider five requests – targeted and extended financial support, a risk based approach to events at alert level 2, a government backed insurance facility for events, new ‘‘tools to the event toolbox” such as rapid COVID-19 testing and improved MIQ systems.

New Zealand Events Association survey found that a week into alert level 4, 182 events were cancelled and 231 events were postponed.

Of the 100 respondents 42 per cent said the disruption had a considerable financial impact on their organisation and 36 per cent reported a moderate financial impact.

The cost was conservatively estimated to be close to $6m and that doesn’t include many large events which did not respond to the survey, the association says.

Co-owner and chief executive of Duco Events, Rachael Carroll has 5 large scale events that take place between October and February. Each event expected more than 5000 people is one of many within the sector that are asking for greater support and direction by the Government.

Rachael says Duco has invested heavily into these events and tickets sales have been strong but it’s a case of fingers and toes crossed that they happen.

We are looking to NZ Government to provide a road map out of the pandemic with some guidance about what can happen when aligned to vaccination rates.

We currently do not know when these events can take place but remain optimistic. We are supportive of restrictions and controls to protect health, but the lack of uncertainty of the next 6 months puts pressure on event companies.

Rachael says Duco has a diverse portfolio of events, many of which have been postponed since March 2020 and with lack of international talent, they have shifted to using more local talent.

“Since the pandemic hit we have been able to shift focus to events with local NZ talent (eg SYNTHONY music event, T20 Black Clash and staging a local Joseph Parker heavyweight fight).

Whilst postponement by no means as dire as cancellation it takes time / energy and money and income is delayed putting pressure on business cash flow.”

Event organisers within the sector are all on the same page when it comes to the support needed by the Government.

Both Rachael and Chris Randle, Head of Event Success at Blerter and a board member of the New Zealand Event Association calling for a road map and having a different status from other mass gatherings.

“Within this road map events need to be considered differently to a mass gathering as  ticketed events are controlled and we have the ability to use mandatory masks, QR codes, and can separate audiences to support contact tracing,” Rachael says.

Chris adds that “there is no one size fits all and the industry is incredibly diverse so access to a system that acknowledges that and supports a risk based approach to decision making would be very helpful.”

“We need clear information, appropriate systems and consistency.”

Chris says as summer arrives  there is a mix of optimism and anxiety across the sector although time and continued uncertainty is one of the biggest challenges many face.

Chris says as well as the economic benefits events bring to New Zealand and host regions, events also have a positive impact on the wellbeing of those that attend and give the wider community a buzz, that an event is being held in their city.

“Economic impact is often the statistic that makes headlines when it comes to events.  However, events can connect and reconnect people and the profound positive impact that events can have on the physical and mental health and wellbeing of people and communities is important now more than ever.”

Hawke’s Bay events champion and Napier City Council Events Manager Kevin Murphy hopes that the new normal, will be less forgiving on the local events sector and the many businesses across Hawke’s Bay that benefit.

“It will be a pretty sad summer if we can’t get out and about and enjoy events such as  international cricket at McLean Park, Art Deco,concerts across the region and the big local free events like New Years Eve.

“It also has the potential to change the events scene for years to come, as the other sectors that rely on the economic windfall from events such as accommodation providers and bars and restaurants.”