Business events sector sees revenue drop to zero

A layman’s rule of thumb watching Covid-19 spread is that the number of infections doubles every four days. But it is not hyperbole to suggest the economic devastation throughout the business events sector is unfolding at an even faster rate.

The moment a ban on non-essential events over 100 kicked in businesses across the nation saw demand fall off a cliff overnight as clients called in to cancel, or at best postpone.

That was before the escalating lockdown on all venues, border closures, advisories against domestic travel…the list goes on.

“Leaders acknowledged that these new restrictions will change the way we live and expressed deep regret for those business owners and employees who will be impacted,” the Prime Minister’s office said in a statement after the latest announcement on venue closures.

“The goal is to reduce the spread of the virus, to flatten the curve and to save the lives of fellow Australians.”

While Australians agree on the necessity of shutting down gatherings to halt the spread of coronavirus, there is no consensus on how the government can best soften the blow to those businesses that are being directly impacted.

Every day seemingly brings a new stimulus package, but to date the emphasis on the economic measures are mainly on tax relief and easier access to credit, or cheap debt. Neither of those is of much use to businesses that have either already laid-off all their staff or have seen demand stop dead in its tracks.

A pledge to boost the Jobseeker allowance and allow faster access to payments have just seen Depression like queues outside Centrelink offices overnight and the MyGov website crash as the suddenly tens of thousands of people without jobs reach out for assistance at the same time. And this is only the first day.

The Business Events Council of Australia (BECA) has estimated the overall economy will take a $2.5 billion hit every month as the business events sector grinds to a halt.

The business events sector had seen a massive reduction in revenue across the entirety of the first quarter this year and as of this week, revenue is zero, BECA stated.

“The business events sector is reliant on the tourism supply chain including venues, accommodation, transport, event organiser, exhibition, catering, audio visual, decorator, and entertainment businesses and more – most of which are small and medium enterprises,” said Dr Vanessa Findlay, the newly appointed chair of BECA.

“We know that these businesses are at immediate risk of closing their doors, some already have, and most have had to let go casual staff and are processing redundancies for the majority of their full and part time staff now. It is dire situation for the sector, for the nation, for the world.

“Our immediate focus is on working with the governments of Australia to ensure we can retain as many businesses and jobs as possible including through a package of wages support, loan repayment relief, low or no interest loans and tax deferrals. BECA and its member organisations have conducted an industry-wide survey, the results of which will be collated by mid next week.

“We will use this information to ensure the support the sector receives from government is targeted at the areas most in need and to shore up the productive capacity we will need when we move to the recovery phase. We must make sure that we retain the sectors core capability and capacity. Without that, recovery of the economy will be compromised.”

BECA said it is working closely with government, including through Tourism Minister Simon Birmingham and his office, and the Treasury Coronavirus Business Liaison Unit, to design and implement a support package.

Last week there were two formal industry meetings with government and a number of informal discussions to get things moving as quickly as possible.

The BECA Board is meeting again today to take the next steps on the development of the Business Events Sector Sustainment Plan, which will form the basis of the sector’s management and response to the coronavirus – covering the immediate needs of industry through to recovery.

“There is no greater focus for BECA and its member associations right now than ensuring the survival of our sector,” BECA stated.

Hindsight and no responsibility make armchair experts out of everyone during this unprecedented crisis. But it is no exaggeration to suggest that the long-term fate of the business event sector lies squarely on Minister Birmingham’s ability to bring the urgency of the issue to the forefront of the Prime Minister’s future support strategy, and fast.