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As India gradually unlocks in phases, many event planners foresee the return of full scale events in the fourth quarter of 2020 or early 2021. We rethink how realistic is it to think so?

Two opposite theories are making the rounds: One is based on the push to reopen economies worldwide, while the other fears a second wave of the virus. Caught amidst these inflicting thoughts are the Events and Activations business. Though this business adds a lot of value to brands, and in terms of gaining market share, it also brings people together which poses the threat of spreading the virus.

Making the situation tougher for event professionals are the regulations and directives from various departments. Almost 75% of senior industry professionals expect to organize events in or after Q4 2020, while the remaining still seems to rest their hope on Q3, 2020. The third quarter is already upon us, and very few countries have allowed large events to reopen. Is the fourth quarter a more realistic option?

When are Events Reopening?

Different countries are reopening events very differently thus making it confusing for all event professionals. Many governments have chosen the same parameters for professional events, such as exhibitions or conferences, with other social gatherings. That means they are part of the very last phase of reopening strategies. For some, it even means waiting for a vaccine or a cure to be available.

Fortunately for the events industry, some countries have recognized the importance of such events to the global economy and are allowing them to restart, starting with Germany in May followed by Australia, some regions in Italy, Austria, and others.

Should agencies be allowed to organize events?

The biggest threat for events is there occurrence of the virus and a spike in infections, which could result in new lockdowns or bans. Case in point, China reopened earlier than any other country but had to shut down again in some places due to new outbreaks of Covid-19. As a result, in Beijing, no exhibition or conference is allowed until further notice. Many people fear that this could be happening in other places too.

Does that mean that another complete shutdown is in the works? We have to remember that economic pressure is what is primarily motivating premature re-openings. Any given government’s willingness to shut down a second time will depend on its economy’s ability to survive it. But if large events resume and become the source of new source of infections, governments might be willing to ban these again until a vaccine or cure is found.

Logistics

The logistics needed to organize a conference or an exhibition, are in the best of times, very complicated. These are not events that you can plan one or two months in advance. They require massive coordination of numerous resources, including venue, accommodation, caterers, AV, exhibitors, speakers, etc. — all of which you need to be able to anticipate reliably in advance.

Profit and ROI

New safety procedures have to be implemented in the absence of a vaccine or a cure. Social distancing will make it difficult to have as many people as usual in indoor settings, costs may rise with cleaning and sanitizing recommendations, with the purchase of masks, thermal testing mechanisms, specific signage, etc. That means the question of whether live events will be profitable any time soon is still up in the air.

Travel Restrictions

Finally, there is major uncertainty about travel, especially international. Some countries have not reopened their borders yet, to reduce the risk of people bringing the virus back from affected areas. New Zealand, for example, has completely lifted the ban on mass gatherings but is still reluctant to open its borders. Others have implemented a 14-day quarantine period, which makes attending an event highly unpractical.

Drawing an inference,the third quarter seems like a difficult proposition for large events. If anything, it will probably be the time for small, local events. The fourth quarter looks more likely but is still under the clouds of uncertainty. For sure events will be back with all pomp and show it deserves but for the time.