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The long read: How event planning could look in the Covid-19 recovery

Jennifer Houlihan, events and operations specialist at Dotted Lines, takes an in-depth look at how events could start to come back in the Covid-19 recovery, taking in pre-event, onsite and post-event planning…

As we await the detailed Government’s strategy and roadmap on ease of lockdown for the hospitality industry, we all must appreciate that we’re heading into a ‘new world’, more so for us in the events industry.

Jennifer Houlihan

Jennifer Houlihan

As event professionals, it will be down to us to advise our clients and delegates on the correct processes and procedures that will need to be in place that will allow us to deliver their events in a safe environment whilst in compliance with UK government guidelines.

Here are some thoughts on how the smaller events could start to operate again and what changes we will be making during the event lifecycle.

Pre-event stage

Covid-19 planning will now be included at the initial event design stage and will include the following:

– Covid-19 Risk Assessments: These will be mandatary for all events and we will be liaising with clients, venues and suppliers at the planning stage in the same way that we now incorporate data privacy by design.

– Legal issues to be considered at contract stage: Where does the liability lie if a personal injury claim arises from an events? As event organisers and our clients as employers of the delegate, we all have a duty of care for their safety. We need to ensure there are no breaches in that duty of care and understand where the responsibility of this lies, whether it is between the client, the event organisers, the venue and/or suppliers – this must be identified at contract stage with all parties and agreed.

– Event insurance: Once you understand where the responsibility of the duty of care lies, this leads into our event insurance as we’ll be able to determine the level of cover we require as event organisers and what needs to considered.

– Registration for all events will be mandatory: Attendees will be asked to confirm their travel history (if applicable), a declaration of health, a declaration that they have not been in close contact with anyone displaying symptoms, or have tested negative.

– Travel requirements: We need to consider how the delegates will get to the event during venue selection to minimise travelling on public transport.

– Pre-event communications: We will use multiple channels to communicate all event instructions, including specific Covid-19 related messages through text, whatsapp, event websites, registration or ticket sites, email, social channels, event apps and onsite signage.

– Event concept: Determine how the event needs to run in the first instance. Can they be shorter events which require minimal catering? Or can you run satellite events in multiple locations and hybrid events with a mixture of live and virtual attendees?

– Floor plans: It’s critical these need to be designed to maintain social distancing of delegates front of house and the event crew back of house. Venues will have to reduce their room capacities – but this should be defined as part of site inspections and initial planning.

Onsite

Supplier and crew vetting must be completed before an event rig commences (declaration of health for all and detailed safety briefings before starting work). These health declarations and attendance at briefings should be recorded electronically for an ongoing record of compliance.

– Provision of non-reusable PPE including face masks to be made available for crew that are not able to socially distance.

– Final checks and declaration of health will be required by attendees in advance of arriving at the venue.

– Event timings should be staggered to reduce the numbers of people at the event at one time and reduce stress on cluster points such as registration or during catering and will avoid any potential queues.

– Managing social distancing onsite: check in/registration, cluster points, staggered catering or consider asking delegates to bring their own food.

– Provide additional hand washing stations: consider providing each delegate with a small hand sanitiser pack.

– Thermal scanning: is it required/appropriate?

– Digitise as much as possible – no lanyards, badges, paper print outs.

– Include floor markings to mark a one way system and 2m distancing for the event.

– Determine a process for dealing with those displaying symptoms onsite and contingency plans would be required for any speakers, crew or entertainers that would need to be replaced at short notice.

– Include a cleaning schedule and sanitation of all equipment and ‘high touch’ areas.

– F&B Covid-19 risk management is a subject matter of its own. But in the first instance it’s clear, buffets will be a distant memory for some time. Initially I can see people being asked to bring a packed lunch and flask of coffee and maybe later some catering outlets can open. But when this does happen, staggered catering times will be essential and socially distanced seats provided.

Post-event

– Managing track and trace post event. This can be added into event apps or through registration systems.

– Communication throughout the event process is critical – pre event, onsite and keeping those channels open post event in case there is a need to track and trace.

Positive signs

Positive signs are being seen in locations further ahead in the recovery and we can learn from their experiences. Disneyland Shanghai opened recently, tickets sold out with minutes which shows there is a demand from consumers. They are operating with increased safety measures, such as running at 30 per cent capacity, advanced registration, social distancing in queues and increased disinfectant. All visitors must wear a face mask and are temperature scanned on arrival.

Disney obviously operates in the B2C market, which is likely to recover quicker than the B2B market. When it comes to corporates I have no doubt that procurement and HR teams will issue new guidelines and restrictions on where its employees go, what criteria an event can happen under and increased procedures for gatherings.

So many businesses have been massively impacted economically it’s hard not to predict that the purse strings will be tighten and marketing budgets in particular slashed, as we have seen in previous times of recession. I predict there will be a huge reluctance for any business to expose their employees to risk but that’s where we as event professionals need to come in to assure them in our ability to resume event operations safely.

Robust processes

We need to have robust processes in place to stop the spread of any cases emerging at the event. Without a doubt we must have the right resources and a Covid-19 Response Manager to manage an outbreak on site. This person will need to isolate those people and get them home where they can self-isolate. We then need to use our communication channels to inform those people they have been in contact with to limit the spread. We already hold this information about our delegates, we already have the lines of communication open, so even without the Government’s Track and Trace app we are still able to demonstrate that we can limit the spread of the virus should an outbreak occur.

There is a huge amount of lobbying going on to get the events industry recognised by the government and to help aid the industry’s agencies, venues, suppliers and freelancers, all who contribute to make our industry worth over £70 billion to the UK economy. But now we must change the dialogue and advise the government how we can re-open our industry and run our events in a safe manner.

Longer term in line with the government’s plans, we can revert to smarter controls rather than social distancing, but for at least the next few months I’d imagine social distancing at events will remain.