The International Association of Convention Centres (AIPC), the International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA) and the Global Association of the Exhibition Industry (UFI) have announced the release of a global good practice guide for business events. It takes as its base the UFI Framework Document issued on May 5th.
This is a comprehensive and well-structured document which is hard to fault in terms of covering every possible aspect of running exhibitions in venues post pandemic which is its clear focus. At 57 pages it is not a quick read but it is broken into small digestible chunks and a scroll down the headings gives the reader a reasonably quick overview of the approach suggested. It is well referenced for any reader wishing to delve deeper into any particular topic with a number of helpful illustrations. The word ‘consider’ proliferates and the guide is, sensibly, not prescriptive. The closest it comes to setting a standard is a reference to the question to which we all want the answer – what is a safe distance? Here it merely refers to the ‘1.5 to 2m calculus’. Very little of it covers any topic that a competent event team could not have come up with themselves but there are sections e.g. the section on Air Ventilation and Filtration, which provide event organisers with a useful insight into the detail that they would not necessarily have possessed. For those whose planning is already well advanced this document provides a useful back check to assist with fine tuning.
Chapter 1 – ‘Framework’ is a useful guide to the overall approach for any company yet to start planning an event post pandemic, particularly regarding the need to appoint a single internal authority (they suggest ‘Chief Hygiene Officer’) to create leadership, clarity and focus.
It is important to view the content in the context of its origins which is almost exclusively from a venue and large corporation/public body perspective. There is a reference in the text to the event organiser produced All Secure Standard but by including this document merely as an Appendix (8), it appears to subjugate the organising sector’s interest in this regard. The document does not acknowledge that it is the organiser that largely owns the risk at their event not just in terms of controlling the risk of the spread of infection but also the commercial success of the event. Whilst nothing is explicitly set as a standard the overall impression sets a high bar if, as the title suggests that this represents ‘good practice’. Comparisons with the high tech approach in Asia where exhibitions are already being run may not necessarily translate across into Europe and other markets. Alongside heat detection technology the document also covers walk through sanitiser mist tunnels, the use of UV-C pathogen killing technology and germicidal air purifiers. There is a small feature on Brussels Expo as the self-proclaimed ‘first Covid-Safe’ exhibition space in the world. In their promotion they talk of bringing in the ‘heavy artillery’ to deal with the virus. Starting an arms war in the race for the most high tech approach to ‘Covid Safe’ event space is fine if it is affordable and if it reduces the risk significantly enough to warrant the cost. In the current market, however, even providing sufficient quantities of hand sanitiser is likely to be prohibitively expensive.
The guide holds up the WHO risk assessment as the ‘leading reference point’ but this endorsement is open to question, for a start the template is for ‘mass gatherings’ not ‘organised industry gatherings’ which is the focus of this document. The template is better suited as a tool to audit whether an event organiser has met a standard to permit the event to proceed rather than an event planning tool. It should not, therefore, be considered as such because it lists prescribed considerations to be checked off rather than starting with an analysis of where and how transmission could occur at the event and then considering how to control it. In other words, the controls are dictated before the actual risk is even considered. A control-led approach risks pushing the bar too high for many events which would otherwise have been perfectly viable. What seems to be missed here is that the risk of transmission in the community needs to be low or very low for events to be permitted in the first place. An event organiser has no control over the prevailing risk in the local community. This raises the question as to whether our aim should simply be to not increase that risk by holding the event as opposed to creating the ‘Covid Safe’ exhibition space promoted in the guide.
In summary, as a compendium of the key issues and the possible allied control measures this is an incredibly useful document if each issue is taken in isolation. However it stops short of making clear that the totality of these arrangements when applied to an event should be assessed against the prevailing risk of transmission and the cost of their implementation.
The guide can be access via the following link: