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Party planners pause as coronavirus spoils fun, forces virtual events

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Bottles of disinfectants and a thermal scanner are placed before the entrance of a restaurant in Mandaluyong City, Metro Manila, June 16. — REUTERS

By Luz Wendy T. Noble, Reporter

PAM O. FERRER, 34, and her fiancé postponed their April 28 wedding after most parts of the Philippines were locked down in mid-March to contain a coronavirus pandemic.

“I knew the quarantine would be extended given the extent of the virus outbreak,” Ms Ferrer, a chief nurse at a hospital near the capital, said by telephone. “I wanted to push through with the wedding even if the lockdown in March was not extended, but I also needed enough rest.”

The government ban on mass gatherings is hard especially for Filipinos, who are such social creatures, and even harder for the local event industry as personal and corporate events got canceled.

BW Bullseye 2020-focusThe industry, which includes one-person party planners to large companies that throw corporate and sports events, live concerts and festivals, has lost P132.9 billion in revenue after events got canceled, said Stephen Y. Ku, president of the League of Event & Activation Agencies of the Philippines (LEAP).

He added that about 370,000 workers in the sector have been displaced by the pandemic. The wedding and social event segment accounts for about half of the P200-billion annual revenue of the local event industry. That was before COVID-19 happened, he said in an e-mail.

Across the world, major events were either canceled or postponed, including the Tokyo Olympics 2020. In New York, the Broadway League has offered ticket refunds and exchanges for shows until early January.

Locally, Baguio City’s annual Panagbenga Flower Festival was called off in March. The concerts of music icons like Avril Lavigne, Gary Valenciano, Green Day, as well as corporate events including what should have been the first-ever Philippine Fintech Festival also got canceled.

Staple beauty pageant Binibining Pilipinas was forced to defer this year’s event as early as May. Both the University Athletic Association of the Philippines and National Collegiate Athletic Association also canceled their remaining sporting events for the season.

Wedding guests are now down to 20 from the usual few hundreds for couples who choose to keep their marriage plans despite the global health crisis, Kamille Grace V. Tolentino, who owns The Weekend Planner, said by telephone.

“Many couples feel bad because they can’t have as many guests as they want,” she said. “On the other hand, people are starting to appreciate intimate weddings.”

SOCIAL CREATURES
President Rodrigo R. Duterte locked down the entire Luzon island in mid-March, suspending work, classes and public transportation to contain the pandemic that has sickened almost 60,000 and killed more than 1,500 people in the Philippines.

People should stay home except to buy food and other basic goods, he said. The President extended the strict lockdown twice for the island and thrice for Manila, the capital and nearby cities. The lockdown in most areas have since been eased, but mass gatherings remained banned.

“Social gatherings are heavily etched in our moral fiber,” Athena Charanne R. Presto, a sociology professor from the University of the Philippines, said in via Zoom Cloud Meeting.

“If you got invited to a gathering and you didn’t go, people see you as a bad person,” she said. “Social gatherings are a very moralistic thing for Filipinos.”

About 30,000 micro-, small- and medium-sized enterprises that work as agents, producers, wedding organizers, technical staff and performers are directly involved in the live event industry.

“We are used to adjusting and adapting to abnormal situations on the fly during our events, but nothing could have prepared us for this,” said Mr. Ku, who is also chief executive officer of Eventscape Manila. “A lot of businesses have suffered massive layoffs and some have even closed shop.”

Dax B. Carnay, chief creative officer and managing director at Echochannels, Inc. — the marketing arm of Eventscape Manila — said the company’s monthly revenue has plunged by almost 70% because of the lockdown.

Echochannels and Eventscape Manila were merged during the lockdown to keep costs down, she said in a Facebook Messenger chat. Typical big events have a budget of P500,000 to P3 million.

More than the economic advantage, easing quarantine restrictions will have psychosocial advantages for people, Ms. Presto said.

OMNI-CHANNELS
“People will find ways to go out,” she said. “What we need to do is to form a collective community facilitated by an efficient government. They need to assure us that they’re doing everything that they can to make sure the time we spent locked up inside our homes is not wasted.”

For now, Filipinos must live under the so-called new normal. The event industry must also adapt by using omni-channels — integrating different sales methods whether online, by phone or in a physical store — to remain relevant, Ms. Carnay said.

“It is definitely going to go beyond the live channel,” she said. “I see integrated communications combined with omni-channel strategies that will bloom hybrid online or on-ground live experiences,” she added.

Clients would probably still prefer live events, Mr. Ku said. “It will be hard to change that mindset overnight as nothing beats — although frowned upon now — the human touch and voice up close and personal,” he added.

Mr. Ku said industry players are hoping for stimulus measures from the government to help them recover. Previous programs were mostly geared for employees, including wage subsidies that have benefited some of them, he added.

Event planners also want to be recognized as part of the tourism industry under Meetings, Incentives, Conventions and Exhibitions Tourism. If that happens, they could benefit from a measure that seeks to allot P58 billion in stimulus measures for the tourism sector.

“If businesses like us close down, it’s going to be a domino effect because there will be no jobs for freelancers, technical suppliers and talents,” Mr. Ku said.

Ms. Ferrer, the nurse whose wedding got canceled, has chosen to get married this month, limiting her guests to about 20 close friends and relatives.

“We decided to push through with the wedding because it looks like the pandemic won’t end soon,” she said. “It’s sad but I also feel excited and happy because we have the blessing of our family.”





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