Western Australia may be open for business, but the events industry is battered by COVID-19

After nearly two years of cancellations and strict COVID-19 restrictions, major events are starting to return to WA, but Perth’s events industry says not enough is being done to help local operators to recover.

When the pandemic first hit in 2020 and borders were closed, events and entertainment companies were among the first to be affected.

Then the WA government decided to impose strict restrictions during the New Year period, resulting in a loss of over $26.5 million after 250 events were canceled.

Months after WA’s border reopened and weeks since most COVID restrictions were removed, major events are beginning to return to the old ‘hermit state’.

Later this month, the second State of Origin game will travel to Perth Stadium for the first time since 2019 and is expected to draw around 11,000 interstate visitors.

The last State of Origin game hosted at Perth Stadium was in 2019.(PA: Dave Hunt)

The stadium will also host the Perth International Football Festival in July, with Premier League club Manchester United taking on Aston Villa in one of the matches.

It was hoped that the reopening of the border in March and the easing of rules would also revive local businesses, but those in the events industry continue to struggle.

Mega Vision is one of the state’s leading audiovisual providers and production companies and hosts events ranging from small parties to large festivals.

Mr Georgiou said the ripple effect of cancellations around Christmas and the rollback of the border in February was still ongoing and he expected more recognition from the government of the ‘State.

Jeff Georgiou
Jeff Georgiou says a major trust issue is one of the hurdles facing the industry.(ABC News: Tabarak Al Jrood)

“We’re not going to see some things until summer comes, but it won’t be on the scale that before,” he said.

“Screaming for help for two years”

Mr Georgiou said he was tired of the events industry being lumped together with tourism and sport and not getting the appreciation it deserved.

“What the government doesn’t understand is that we are the festivals, we are the council shows, we are the concerts, we are the weekend markets, we are the community shows, we are all those things classified as events, and they’re not giving us support,” he said.

“If something is going to happen, if there’s a fire or a flood or a disaster, what’s the first industry they go to for help? They come to us and say ‘if there’s please organize a free concert to help everyone” or “please put something on to raise money for these flood or fire victims”, and we did it.

“But now we’re the ones crying out for help and it’s been two years since we got it.

“The industry is hurting…and they need to do more to help us survive.”

Grants expensive and complicated processes

Since the start of the pandemic, the state government said it had injected nearly $1.7 billion in business aid, including grants for those affected by the restrictions.

Mr Georgiou said he waited four months for his application to be approved, and while he was grateful for some support, it was “nowhere near enough”.

“Grants are one-time and cancellations happen every week for months and months and months,” he said.

AV equipment van
Keeping industry vehicles and equipment registered and maintained is difficult when there is little or no money coming in.(ABC News: Tabarak Al Jrood)

Mr Georgiou said he would prefer the government to grant cost-cutting exemptions to companies like his.

“We all have vehicles, trucks, vans, carnival rides, food trucks that have been in warehouses for a few years now, not doing much. But we have to pay for registration, we have to keep everything maintained, we have to pay for all the certificates and so on,” he said.

WA’s Events Industry Association (EIA) vice president Blake Williams said some companies missed out on the grants because of the onerous application process.

Blake Williams
Mr Williams says the accounting fees to access government grants can be more than the value of the grant.(ABC News: Tabarak Al Jrood)

“So many event providers have said to me, ‘It’s going to cost us more money in accounting fees to get these grants than the grants will bring us,'” he said.

“We explained that the thresholds for the grants are too strict and the numbers are too low…we work in a gig-to-gig economy and that was not taken into account when these grants were administered.”

“Big flashy events” don’t hide the suffering

Mr Williams, who runs his own entertainment agency, said he had to cancel around $30,000 of concerts over New Year’s Eve and only received $800 in compensation.

“As an industry, we are disappointed with how we’ve been treated a bit,” he said.

“We’ve continually asked for a conversation, and we’ve said from the start, give us a seat at the table and we’ll talk about these issues, we’ll make sure the industry is healthy, and we’ll do it together.”

But the EIA thinks the focus has been more on interstate or overseas events, rather than local ones.

“It’s great that we have these big events like State of Origin because it’s a massive injection of money into the state, but don’t assume that because we have big flashy events, our local industry don’t suffer,” Mr Williams said. .

“It’s important for people to understand that while these big events are unfolding, it’s the local people who have been through the pandemic who are still very tough.

Rows of empty seats in a Perth theater
Blake Williams says it’s time to invest money in the local events industry.(ABC News: Tabarak Al Jrood)

“We need to support local industry, those local actors, musicians, dancers [and] technicians who have been through it all, kept it going to feed their families… it’s time to inject some money into local industry as well. »

Industry seeks to regain lost trust

Local businessman Jamie Mercanti, who runs an entertainment agency, said the perception that the industry was starting to rebound because big shows were coming back was not the reality.

“At the time these shutdowns happened, everyone in the entertainment industry understood the rules and agreed to what was asked of them without question.

“But now the government needs to do a lot more because these businesses are active 52 weeks a year…it’s not just a special event like the next State of Origin game or the Manchester United game.”

Jamie Mercanti
Jamie Mercanti says the perception that the industry is bouncing back is wrong.(ABC News: Tabarak Al Jrood)

In a brief statement, the state government said it had done all it could to “help protect Western Australian businesses, local jobs and the economy from the full brunt of COVID. -19”.

“We are now past the peak, which is nice. WA’s unemployment rate remains the lowest in the country and WA’s economy remains strong – leading the country,” the statement said.

“Western Australians can be confident to continue supporting WA businesses and events.”

But Mr Mercanti said it was up to the government to regain public confidence in the sector after months of uncertainty and backflips.

“No one has the confidence to put anything on or even start planning anything,” he said.

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