On the 17th July, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that providing the infection rate is staying at a manageable level, business events, conferences, exhibitions, and event centres will be given the go ahead to reopen. But the question being asked is, “How can venue operators and businesses host these events whilst keeping staff and guests safe?”.
In the eyes of the government, the events industry is seen as part of the “visitor economy” which not only includes tourism but also encompasses all staying and non-staying visitors and activities. It includes outdoor paid for attractions such as theme parks and all the way through to indoor attractions such as stately homes and planetariums. but more importantly to those of us in the corporate hospitality and events sector, it also includes the variety of activities that take place in hotels, exhibition halls, meeting rooms and conference centres.
Thankfully, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) has released some guidance aimed at business owners, operators and workers in all of the above areas. Specifically, the guidance says that “from the 1st October, events will be allowed, in line with guidance set out”, “and dependant on whether the virus remains around or below current levels into the autumn”. There’s obviously much more to the guidance, and it needs to be read in conjunction with other published guidance, but essentially, it gives the industry something to work towards.
The Meetings Industry Association (MIA) has also produced guidance specifically for conference and event venues and this guidance is also wrapped up into the bigger UK Hospitality Guidance for catering requirements.
Since the 1st August, meetings of up to 30 people indoors have been allowed in permitted venues providing that social distancing can be maintained and the venue can demonstrate that it has followed the Covid-19 guidance, but from 1st October providing we don’t see an increase in virus transmission, larger events are likely to start to take place once again.
Following the 1st October announcement, a number of pilots have been taking place across the country to help inform plans for the return of in-person events and to ensure it is possible for staff and guests to be able to adhere to social distancing measures to reduce close contact. Even before the announcement, GRT Events had been working with venues to develop Covid-safe conference and event packages. Newly introduced measures include foot operated presentation clickers and Q&A stations to minimise the risk of virus transmission from the use of traditional handheld clickers and microphones. Protective screens for technicians have also been included, and the use of cameras and advanced video switching also allows interaction with remote delegates for a hybrid conference experience as close as possible to being there in person.
The guidance makes it clear that a number of measures need to be considered before events and conferences can restart:
- Pre-booking and registration – delegates should not be allowed to “just turn up” – This ensures that records of all delegates are kept and can be referenced in case of any delegate subsequently testing positive for Covid-19. This ensures that the test and trace procedures are followed for the safety of all. Records should be kept for at least 21 days.
- Contactless registration systems should be introduced at venues to reduce queuing and to limit contact between delegates and organisers. This will also eliminate the need for badges and lanyards to be provided.
- Entrance to event spaces should be staggered to reduce queuing and by limiting capacity will help ensure that social distancing can be maintained.
- One-way systems should be put in place for visitors to reduce contact and to ensure free-flowing movement of delegates around the venue.
- Venues should ensure that appropriately distanced seating is in place for business conferences and events.
- Floor markings and signage should be put in place to remind both staff and delegates to follow social distancing guidelines wherever possible.
- Those presenting (speakers) are subject to the restrictions on live performances and specific guidance is available in the performing arts guidance.
- All venues will have enhanced cleaning procedures in place with hand washing and sanitising facilities to be made available.
- And finally, paper handouts and gifts should no longer be offered.
These are just some examples of the things that need to be taken into consideration before holding an event and additional measures for exhibitions and trade shows are also published.