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UAE's exhibitions industry is working on new regulatory guidelines to host future events. Social distancing and visitor restrictions at any given time will be the realities organisers have to live with. Image Credit: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News

Dubai: With new lockdowns in place in the UK and elsewhere in Europe, a revival for the UAE’s events and exhibitions industry hangs in the balance.

The Sharjah Book Fair is on, and December will host the tech-focussed Gitex. January will have the World Future Summit, and there’s the ‘AI Everything’ in March followed by the Abu Dhabi Book Fair in May, and then the action starts to begin in earnest for the rescheduled World Expo 2020 in October. These are the dates and events organisers are pinning their hopes on.

“However, participation of international exhibitors is still a question mark with travel not completely open in some countries,” said said Harmeek Singh, spokesperson of the Crisis Committee at the ILEA Middle East Chapter. (ILEA is the International Live Events Association.)

“Restrictions are in place, we have had a good example of the IPL taking place without spectators and the F1 following suit. The ‘Race to Dubai’ golf tournament has restricted attendance to 500, which includes staff and players.

"As an industry we are hoping it gets better in the coming month - every delay means a dent for the industry."

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For now, the events industry is thinking of smaller events to help them see through the immediate turmoil. “The recent announcement of weddings and smaller events with 200 people being approved gives us hope,” said Singh.

It is anyone’s guess about rescheduling of events due to the pandemic. Some exhibitors have rescheduled for 2021, but others are progressing as planned

- Harmeek Singh of Plan b Group

Nipping hopes

But it’s the enforcing of new lockdown measures in the UK and Europe that has thrown UAE businesses from the turnaround track. The loss of visitors from the UK will hit especially hard across sectors, with the UK government banning all non-essential travel.

Some in the events industry suggest that these lockdown measures could alter/postpone the dates of upcoming events. A 'second wave' is rated as the next big threat the industry is having to confront.

Safety measures

This is why local authorities and the industry groupings such as ILEA are working to have in place “regulatory guide” once events and visitors pick up. “Across the world, legislation and guidance steers organisers of events from the smallest family gathering to the Olympic Games,” said Steve Kearney, a member of the Technical Committee at ILEA Middle East Chapter.

“We, as events professionals, feel that the need to create laws and direction to those who intend to hold or be part of an event for the safety and wellbeing of all who are involved or attend. This is the perfect opportunity for the UAE to be innovative, which in turn will allow global brands and tourists to be drawn to the region and know they are in safe hands.

"Organizations such as ILEA were quick to react to prescribing a safe methodology to resuming live events. We have been working with industry experts, local and national government agencies and the public to ascertain what makes a safe and enjoyable event in these strange times - and how would they like to see events shaping up in the future."

Dubai Events
An image from a less uncertain time... After the pandemic struck, the biggest

New doses of reality

There is realization among industry sources that things will just not be the same as before the pandemic. Winning back visitors and exhibitors will be a tough slog.

“In today’s world the language being spoken is virtual and [having] hybrid events at a fraction of the cost,” said Singh. “In our industry, the biggest percentage is on the on-ground services.

“There are many in the industry - including an army of freelancers and smaller entities - who are completely dependent on live events and have been hit hard. We must be prepared that both projects and budgets will be nowhere near pre-COVID-19 times. Upcoming business is limited to a few.”

Working with social distancing

Following COVID-19 safety protocols is a default setting for any event. “Recently, we have seen restrictions in place for Dubai Sports World and World Art Dubai with space allocation, audience capping and safety guidelines where social distancing was key to these events,” said Singh. “As a business, social distancing has taken its toll on the industry and is now getting many industry players to rethink their service offerings.

“We are a creative industry and must create platforms to get past this phase.”

Events and exhibitions will not resume as they were before the pandemic. So we need to adapt and change, and as an industry, this is what we do every day. We plan for the worst but expect the best

- Steve Kearney, Managing Partner of Gallowglass Health and Safety