Events industry inoculated against flu?

The threat of a global swine flu pandemic has created a period of unrest for the events industry with the government’s COBRA crisis committee reportedly looking at worst-case scenarios that could include cancelling large-scale events in the case of serious pandemic.

The Department of Health confirmed to Conference News there were plans in place but refused to comment further, “because we are not yet at that stage”.

While it is unclear what the legality of enforcing a ban would be, no venue could stand against such a health and safety recommendation.

Could it happen here? Well we are one of the most populous islands in the world and if a deeply religious nation like Mexico can close its churches, then theclosure of UK events venues could not be ruled out.

The World Health Organisation has raised the flu pandemic alert statuslevel to five (out of six) and encouraged all countries to activate their Emergency Pandemic Preparedness Plans (EPPP). To reach level five the infection must have passed from human to human in two separate countries.

The Foreign Office is advising against all but essential travel to Mexico and holiday companies First Choice and Thomson have stopped flights to Mexico.

Previous outbreaks, such as SARS and Avian flu, had little impact on Britain and national tourism board VisitBritain has no plans, at this stage, to issue particular advice to visitors to Britain on swine influenza.

Some major UK venues and events contractors are working on contingency plans and industry associations, such as the Association of Exhibition Organisers, are recommending members check their insurance policies with regard to cancellation clauses and seek clarity with their respective brokers at the earliest opportunity.

Hotel Booking Agents Association chairman Steve Ockerby says it is too early to say what impact the swine flu will have on the industry, “athough anything which further undermines the fragility of the market is to be regretted especially at a time when the first signs of recovery are becoming evident. We are conscious that we need to keep a close watch on developments, particularly since the WHO’s escalation of the threat, but there is certainly no need to panic. The industry in general has a high level of preparedness, particularly since SARS and avian bird flu in recent years, and to our knowledge no events have been cancelled as a direct result of the supposed threat.”

The Irish Club London has stepped in with a video conferencing by the hour offer. “Situations such as these call for quick responses and we are glad we have facilities that soothe the business panic,” says executive manager Charles Vernon.

Keith Prowse marketing manager Ted Walker is one of those who would lose heavily if outdoor events were cancelled. “Everyone knows face to face interaction is the most productive way to do business. The summer season is the ideal time for international visitors to do business at sporting events such as Wimbledon. Hopefully they won’t have to miss out on these opportunities.”

MD of Red Snapper Events Damian Clarkson stresses that we have not seen any events or conferences being cancelled due to swine flu. “Although there has been a lot of media hype around the issue, it really does seem to be business as usual for the majority of people. We are naturally following all the usual hygiene regulations but are not anticipating it to effect business a great deal.”

Sheepdrove Eco Conference Centre actually has several hundred pigs on site. Russell Downing tells Conference News: “As a venue, the swine flu situation puts us in a unique position. We are not only organising events all the time but out centre is located in the heart of an organic farm. We currently don’t believe a spread in the virus will cause particular challenges. We have simple procedures in place to ensure the safety of delegates in case of a severe outbreak.

“However, for most venues the biggest challenge will be food sources in the face of travel bans and a freeze on stock movements. This is where we differ from other venues, all of the food fed to delegates is sourced on site, from meat to vegetables. We are simply monitoring stock levels and ensuring we have the necessary supplies.”

Downing says simple bio-security such as wheel dips and feet washed will ensure the long-term safety of herds and delegate health. “Having said all that, we cannot account for the government’s potential over-reaction to the virus and the potential threat of bans on travel, public gatherings and animal culls. This government in particular is renowned for enforcing short term measures that have little thought for animal welfare.”

Head of conference and banqueting sales, Delaware North Companies, Wembley Stadium, Jackie Boughton says substantial measures have been taken to ensure delegate safety. “Robust contingency plans are in place should an outbreak occur.” Event Assured’s Brian Kirsch reminds us that you can’t buy event insurance for something which is already an accomplished fact. “An analogy might be ‘you can’t insure a house which is already on fire’. For this reason, insurers are now excluding swine flu, at least for the time being. If you already have event insurance, and there is no exclusion, then you should be covered.”

Jonathan Byrne at the QEIICC tells Conference News the centre has a very carefully researched and documented disaster recovery plan adapted to take account of any swine flu pandemic.

“The full plan served as the basis for a highly successful reaction earlier this year to the heavy snow when QEIICC remained fully operational. It includes consideration of a wide range of factors and full consultation with our clients about cancellation – but this is not a decision QEIICC would undertake lightly.”

ACC Liverpool say they have revisited their contingency plans, “because,” according to GM Jacquie Rogers, “usually if you prepare for the worst, it doesn’t happen”.

Paul Colston


Paul Colston

Managing Editor, Conference News & Conference & Meetings World.

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