THE outbreak of COVID-19 across the globe has slammed governments, businesses and individuals with a wave of unprecedented challenges. While the travel and tourism industry has essentially grinded to a halt, the business events industry is also feeling the effects — and strongly.

As the virus began spreading from China to other countries, and as the death toll rose, we began to see numerous event cancellations in Australia and across the globe.

In light of the high infection rates of COVID-19, the Federal Government advised the Australian public on 13 March against holding or attending events with 500 or more people.

Less than a week later, on 18 March, the Government tightened the restrictions further, announcing a ban on indoor events with 100 or more people, as well as a ban on outdoor events with 500 or more people. At the time of writing, gatherings have been further restricted to a requirement of 4m2 per person and a suspension of all non-essential gatherings.

Unsurprisingly, event cancellations increased tenfold, extending to major cultural events like The Royal Sydney Easter Show and Vivid Sydney.

The Business Events Council of Australia (BECA) didn’t paint a very cheerful picture last month when calculating how the COVID-19 pandemic will adversely affect the Australian events industry, suggesting the shutdown of the sector would wipe an estimated $2.5 billion from the national economy every month.

“It is a dire situation for the sector, for the nation, for the world,” lamented BECA Chair Vanessa Findlay.

“To give context, this is equivalent to the value of the entire cruise industry every two months”.

The figures would hardly be surprising to people working within the industry who know just how valuable business events are as a bridge between a virtually all business sectors.

Annually the industry rakes in $30 billion for the Australian economy and employs more than 193,000 people, running more than 430,000 events annually.

Findlay said the focal point for the sector’s rescue strategy right now is ensuring governments are doing all that they can to keep the events industry afloat while the country rides out the worst of the outbreak.

In the meantime, some organisers have been looking at creative ways to ride out the crisis, with virtual streaming of events one avenue that some expos and conferences have pursued.

Recent examples of this pivot include the streaming of the Australian Pharmacy Professional (APP) conference online, which included 28 hours of content in 44 sessions, as well as technology expo QODE Brisbane, which signed a partnership agreement with Youtube to ensure the high-profile event went ahead.