The Struggle of Survival for Major Events in the Western Bay

It has been a difficult time for most industries around the country. But for those working in the events industry, the lockdowns have left them in the lurch with sunk costs and commitments that need to be paid, whether the event goes ahead or not.

From the National Jazz Festival and the TECT National Sevens which were cancelled, to the Pacific Rim Gymnastics Championships and the Festival of Disability Sport which were postponed, the range of complexities and uncertainties of running large-scale events during this time has led many event organisers to rethink how they hold their event, if it is held at all.

Event organisers are now struggling to find the funds to survive – to not only cover costs associated with the cancelled event, but to maintain enough reserves to continue in the years ahead.

The majority of costs for an event are incurred weeks or months before it is held. From capital items, wages and marketing, to health and safety compliance, operational planning and more, it quickly adds up.  And the human cost is large too, with hundreds of hours, both paid and volunteer, going into an event.

In the face of the Covid-19 lockdown, the Tauranga Arts Festival Trust Board made the tough, but obvious, decision to cancel Escape! at Queen's Birthday weekend. The cancellation was early enough that only a minimal financial loss was incurred.

Despite ongoing uncertainty, the board was adamant it wanted to deliver arts to the community in 2020 and has scheduled a pop-up style Escape! in Tauranga on 17 and 18 October, funded entirely from financial reserves.

"It's a big step," general manager Nikki Hansen says of the plan to self-fund, "but our guests are excited about being invited and our venues are thrilled to host us, so we hope audiences will respond positively too."

A pop-up means a smaller programme which flows through to reduced costs. "We decided to make a virtue of slimming down," Nikki says. "For instance, speakers and authors are almost all from the 'golden triangle' of Waikato-BOP-Auckland, and we're delighted the programme is supporting so many small, independent publishers.

"The changes the pandemic has had on our community – both visible and invisible – weigh on everyone to some extent, so we're aware Escape! could be just what our community is needing at what has been such a difficult time for all."

Nikki is optimistic about alert level realities. "Looking into next week is hard enough," she says, "so trying to predict what might happen in October is nigh-on impossible.

"We've established some what-if scenarios around Covid and the ever-changing levels, and work closely with the local events community to share information around how we are adapting to the ever-changing world we find ourselves in. We're comfortable with where we're sitting while realising that anything could happen."

For AIMS Games Tournament Director Vicki Semple, cancelling the event was an incredibly difficult decision, one that considered all 11,000 of its participating athletes and the wider community.

"Cancelling the 2020 AIMS Games was the hardest decision the AIMS Games trustees have ever had to make in the 17-year history of the event, but the Covid-19 global pandemic created so much uncertainty and anxiety that it made hosting the Tauranga-based tournament untenable.

"We went through every possible scenario and agonised over what this decision meant to our athletes, our schools, our supporters, our sponsors, local businesses and our contractors.

"When we made this decision in May, we knew there were risks of further lockdowns and outbreaks, and unfortunately, those fears have been realised.  I shudder to think how stressful it would've been to have made the decision now and it was definitely the right call for our community and our country."

The AIMS Games Trust sought funding through the WBOP COVID-19 Recovery Fund, established by TECT, Acorn Foundation, BayTrust and Tauranga City Council, to cover income shortfall after cancelling the 2020 event.

Vicki says the $50,000 they received will ensure the viability of the 2021 event.

"This funding has been crucial to us, enabling us to plan calmly and effectively, so we can make the 2021 tournament one to remember for all those schools and families who've been affected this year.  We're incredibly appreciative of the support we've received – it will ensure the local community continues to benefit from all the great things the Anchor AIMS Games brings here."

TECT Chairperson Bill Holland says supporting cancelled or postponed events with the Recovery funding is vital for our community.

"We need these events going forward. They are essential for our community wellbeing, strengthening communities by bringing people together from all walks of life. They provide opportunities to participate in sport, the arts, and celebration of our heritage, while also having a broader impact on the social, cultural and economic development of our region.

"If we can keep these organisations functioning for next year and beyond with our Recovery funding, then we know once we get through to the other side, we will have a region that can stay connected – one that is even stronger than before.

"We are pleased this funding can help cover some of the shortfall in income for the AIMS Games – it is a vital event for our region."

The WBOP COVID-19 Recovery Fund is open for applications from NGPs and NGOs. To learn more and to apply today, visit https://www.tect.org.nz/covid-19-recovery-fund/.


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