With trade shows and events being postponed across the UK due to COVID-19, we spoke to Natalka Antoniuk from leading exhibition stand designers, Quadrant2Design, to discover the impact it will be having on our industry…
The UK's events industry is worth £42.3 billion and employs over 570,000 people. With 1.3 million business events at over 10,000 venues attracting over 85 million attendees annually, the UK's event industry would take a lot to be ground to a halt. Enter Boris Johnson and his latest announcement to transition the country into the 'delay phase' of the four stage coronavirus prevention plan.
The events industry will likely take a huge hit from the coronavirus outbreak. Although some feel well equipped to deal with it, it's still a worry for many other businesses who don't have the financial security or crisis management plan necessary to survive. Many of the businesses involved within the supply chain are SMEs and do not have a crisis management plan in place to deal with these scenarios. Increasing staff sickness levels, forced office closures, hysteria and panicked clients would have had an effect on the industry on their own.
The forced cancellation of large events could have detrimental impact on the industry. Those involved in the supply chain should prepare for a tough few years ahead.
COVID-19 is having a significant impact on many leading industries, with over 115,000 people infected worldwide. The virus was first identified in Wuhan, China back in December 2019 and has since spread globally. As the strand of coronavirus spreads it has caused panic with people being forced into quarantine and stripping supermarket shelves bare. Although COVID-19 is likely to affect all of us in the short term, the impact is has on certain industries could be detrimental.
When Coronavirus was first detected within the UK, the government made the decision to implement the first phase of a four stage action plan. The Containment Phase was intended to detect and isolate any cases that came into the country. The government planned to quarantine individuals who had recently returned from infected areas or were showing symptoms of the virus for a minimum of two weeks.
As the numbers climbed, realisation set in that we don't have the facilities to control this type of mass quarantine. Individuals were being asked to self-isolate at home as a precautionary measure. One of the problems with this was that individuals weren't offered financial compensation, therefore they chose to go about their daily routines before the recommended two weeks was over. It was at this point that we started seeing the virus spread across the UK. The total number of people infected rose from just 13 to 460 in two weeks. It was clear that the government's attempts to detect and isolate each case had not been effective.
Quickly, the UK moved from the containment phase of the COVID-19 prevention plan to the delay phase. Moving to the delay phase of the plan is what is going to hit industries the hardest. This phase accepts that a widespread outbreak is likely, but uses strategies to delay this outbreak. This virus has hit us during a particularly busy time for our NHS, delaying the outbreak until summer would ease the tension. It also gives us more time to develop and test a vaccine.
The delay phase involves isolating early cases to avoid the spread, and is expected to go as far as school closures, restricting public transport and banning large public events. This could have a severe impact on the events industry, including large global brands and small local businesses, as the effects trickle down the supply chain. Some events had already made the decision to postpone in anticipation of the regulation.
Across the globe, many large public events were cancelled or postponed at the event organisers discretion, including Dublin's St Patrick's Day Parade and the Six Nations final match. This comes despite reports from the BBC suggesting that there were no intentions to cancel or postpone sporting events in the UK.
The exhibition industry also saw a huge dip in number of attendees as people were choosing to avoid public spaces. Mobile World Congress (MWC), the world's largest annual gathering for the mobile industry, was cancelled amid fears that one of over 109,000 visitors or 2,400 exhibitors would be a carrier of COVID-19. The event, as with many other trade shows, attracts visitors from almost 200 countries. As some countries are currently dealing with a coronavirus outbreak, MWC put the health and safety of their exhibitors, staff and attendees first and took the decision to cancel the event entirely.
Currently, over 600 trade shows and exhibitions have been cancelled or postponed worldwide. And that is without government enforcement. Now that the UK has announced the delay phase of the COVID-19 prevention plan, we can expect to see 100,000 events cancelled each month until the restriction is lifted. Even without enforced cancellation, travel is becoming increasingly difficult between the affected areas. So far we have seen British Airways and Ryanair cancel flights to and from Italy until at least mid-April. This is not the type of situation that the UK is well prepared to deal with.
The government's four stage plan aims to keep the British population safe and healthy. Delaying the outbreak gives everyone more time to adjust, and takes the pressure off of the NHS. These measures may be necessary to prevent an epidemic, however the aftermath will leave both individuals and industries in a critical situation. The impact this will have on the events industry, particularly the SMEs involved in the supply chain, will be detrimental. Exhibitions, trade shows and conferences are valued at £20.9 billion alone. Planning and organising an event involves multiple companies, large and small. It isn't just the event organisers that should expect to see a change.