Update 23 September: The Meetings Industry Association says it has received confirmation from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport that business meetings of up to 30 people can continue in Covid-secure venues, with the rule unchanged in yesterday's announcement.
A plan to resume larger live conferences and exhibitions in
England on 1 October has been delayed indefinitely as part of new restrictions
being imposed by the UK government following a rise in coronavirus cases across
While it is not yet clear whether a new rule limiting
wedding ceremonies and receptions to 15 people will be extended to business
meetings and events, the news confirms that conferences and exhibitions with more attendees will
not be allowed to go ahead, with no date yet given for when the original plan
might be revisited other than that the restrictions could be in place for ‘perhaps
Making a statement in the House of Commons on Tuesday, prime minister Boris Johnson said the government is trying to
maintain a “delicate balance between saving lives by protecting our NHS and
minimising the wider impact of our restrictions”. While he acknowledged the
impact of the new restrictions on spectator sports and promised that the
chancellor and culture secretary are “working urgently on what we can do now to
support” sports clubs, he made no mention of extending any such measures to the
meetings and events or hospitality industries, which have already been deeply
impacted by existing rules and a downturn in client activity.
Two weeks ago, Johnson announced that a rule restricting
social gatherings to no more than six people would be made law with greater enforcement
powers for police, but it took four days for the meetings and events
industry to hear more about whether the regulation would apply to business
meetings. In the meantime, multiple venues reported that clients had cancelled
their bookings almost immediately rather than waiting for further clarification,
costing some venues tens of thousands of pounds in business.
In addition to cancelling the 1 October go-live date for
larger events, Johnson has also announced fines for businesses
that break the rules around providing a Covid-safe environment for patrons and
employees, while a legal requirement to wear a face covering will now apply to
staff and customers in indoor hospitality venues, except when people are seated
at a table to eat or drink.
The news has proved to be another knock to the meetings and
events industry’s confidence in any momentum that has been building since last
month. With the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme coming to a close at the end
of October, there are fears that tens of thousands of jobs – if not more – in the
sector could be lost.
Jane Longhurst, CEO of the Meetings Industry Association (MIA),
said: “As the prime minister has confirmed that its latest ruling would be in
place for ‘upwards of six months’, this is a further devastating blow for our
sector, which has already been truly decimated by the impact of the pandemic.
“Without a clear reopening date and no clear idea if there
is going to be any support forthcoming, this industry has simply been hung out
to dry. Organisers I have no doubt will already be cancelling their events for
the next six months, which means a repeat of the cash-flow drain experienced by
venues and booking agents in the spring. When we finally get the go-ahead to
reopen, it is going to take many, many months to rebuild booker confidence and
many years to see any form of recovery.
“Throughout the course of this pandemic the industry has
worked hard to demonstrate the harrowing implications of its impending demise,
calling upon urgent support where all forms of operations and revenue
generation has been blocked by government.
“Venues have been tirelessly coordinating and implementing
now redundant government plans, investing heavily depleted financial resources
to ensure they have all the necessary requirements in place to ensure they are Covid-secure,
and with today’s announcement we are simply not being respected – in fact it’s
much worse than that – we have been simply ignored. The prime minister thought
it much more relevant to comment about the lack of spectator sport than he did
the thousands of jobs across the UK that are reliant on the business meetings
and event sector.
“We already know that venues have averaged a £2,398,600 loss
of business to date, but unlike other sectors, business meetings and events has
only received the basic package of support. This is revenue that simply cannot
be borne any longer. Venues will be closing; more jobs will be lost. We need
financial support as quickly as possible – without it what hope does the
industry have of saving the 140,000 jobs that are on the line at the end of the
Lex Butler, chair of the Hotel Booking Agents Association (HBAA), commented: “Following the prime minister’s announcement earlier, the business events sector, which underpins economic growth for all industries, has today been further decimated.
“Many of our agency and venue members have gone beyond or are at tipping point; they have had to make redundancies, they are unsure if their businesses can survive, many haven’t had any income for over six months. Financial reserves and overdrafts are exhausted, and this news will regrettably accelerate the inevitable.
“Whilst HBAA fully appreciates and supports the need for these tighter measures in the interests of the country’s fight back against the spread of Covid-19, we must receive substantial financial support without delay. We continue to campaign and lobby for additional financial support specifically for our sector, and we have to see action now if our businesses, and the industry, are to survive.”
The news has also been criticised by the travel industry, which stands to be impacted by both the rise in cases and the government's advice for people to work from home if they can.
Clive Wratten, CEO of the Business Travel Association (BTA), said: “The latest Covid-19 restrictions will be a fatal blow for the business travel sector unless the government acts now. Our industry urgently needs financial support extended well into 2021 and the introduction of testing on departure. We want to get Britain moving – safely. Business travel powers our economy and Britain’s reputation for trade. Today, 50 per cent of our industry stand to lose their jobs at the end of October and that figure is quickly rising. There is no time to delay if we want to keep Britain open for business.”