The conference and events sector can resume in the UK from October, the government announced today in a move roundly welcomed by industry leaders.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson confirmed a relaxation of restrictions on conferences and business events from October 1 as he outlined plans for a “significant return to normality” by the end of the year.
Johnson said: “From October, we intend to bring back audiences in stadia and to allow conferences and other business events to recommence.”
However, he stressed the plans “remain conditional” and said: “These changes must be done in a Covid-secure way, subject to the successful outcome of pilots.”
Johnson announced a relaxation of advice on use of public transport and returning to work from August 1, with businesses able decide whether to bring staff back to workplaces.
Theatres and sports venues will also be allowed to reopen to audiences next month subject to the success of pilots, “with a view to wider reopening in the autumn”.
However, alongside these measures Johnson announced new powers for local authorities to close premises, shut outdoor spaces and cancel events. These will come into force from Saturday July 18.
In addition, the Prime Minister announced: “Next week we will publish draft regulations which set out how central government can intervene more effectively at a local level.
“Where justified, ministers will be able to close whole sectors or types of premises in an area, introduce local ‘stay at home’ orders, prevent people entering or leaving defined areas, reduce the maximum size of gatherings or restrict transport systems.”
Johnson insisted: “It is my strong and sincere hope that we will be able to review the outstanding restrictions and allow a more significant return to normality from November.”
Jane Longhurst, chief executive of the Meetings Industry Association (MIA), welcomed the October 1 restart for conferences and events, saying: “The impact of Covid-19 on the business meetings and events sector has been devastating so we are delighted.
“We’re awaiting the detail of the pilot events, but we do know they [the government] are to offer Public Health England the chance to test the industry’s ability to hold major events with large numbers of people.”
Longhurst said: “To ensure we reopen and operate in a Covid-Secure way, it will be imperative that the sector follows the guidance issued by government as well as the MIA roadmap to reopening and operating safely.”
Lex Butler, chair of the events and hospitality association HBAA, said: “At long last we have a date to work to and the uncertainty is over after all the hard work in lobbying and making preparations to ensure the safety of delegates and staff.
“It’s great news, but we’re reserving our celebrations until we see the small print.”
Patricia Yates, director of VisitBritain and VisitEngland also welcomed the news, saying: “The timeline for reopening conferences and business events is great news for England’s valuable events industry and the thousands of jobs that depend on it.
“Meet England, alongside our suppliers, has been working very hard to ensure the sector can get back on its feet, ready to welcome back visitors safely and to showcase the outstanding destinations, venues and incentive experiences that make England a leading destination for business events.”
The business-events promotion department of VisitEngland, Meet England is encouraging businesses to register for the UK-wide ‘We’re Good To Go’ industry standard and consumer mark to which 30,000 businesses have already signed up,
The We’re Good To Go guidelines apply to accommodation, visitor attractions, restaurants, pubs, business conference and events venues.