. 'The Empty Event' Spotlights Dire Need for Industry Relief | Northstar Meetings Group

'The Empty Event' Spotlights Dire Need for Industry Relief

The Live Events Coalition took over Times Square to call for federal aid and raise awareness about the impact of COVID-19 on meeting professionals.

For the event, 48 empty tables were set up in Times Square, each representing 250,000 of the 12 million workers in the live events industry.
For the event, 48 empty tables were set up in Times Square, each representing 250,000 of the 12 million workers in the live events industry. Photo Credit:Live Events Coalition

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A staggering 85 percent of face-to-face event companies have furloughed or laid off members of their workforce due to COVID-19, according to the Live Events Coalition. The group, which was created in response to the pandemic, is calling for federal aid as state restrictions on group gatherings prevent many meeting professions from returning to work.

"As one of the first industries to be shut down by the government — and likely one of the last to be reinstated — we are simply asking that the plight of the live events industry be recognized by Congress and the White House, and that the industry be included in the national conversation and supplemental federal relief aid packages," said Nancy Shaffer, president of the Live Events Coalition.

To showcase just how many meeting professionals have been affected, the coalition organized an "Empty Event" in New York City's Times Square on July 31. Setup included the installation of 48 empty tables facing an empty stage. Each table was designed to represent 250,000 of the 12 million workers that make up the live events industry, including planners, caterers, florists, suppliers and sound technicians who are struggling to find work.

All tables and chairs were outfitted with signs that spoke to the devastating impact the virus has had on the events industry.
All tables and chairs were outfitted with signs that spoke to the devastating impact the virus has had on the events industry. Photo Credit: Live Events Coalition

Signs were placed on all tables and chairs. Some shared facts, such as "Before COVID-19, live events contributed roughly $1 trillion to the U.S. economy. Now they're expected to lose up to 80 percent of overall revenue." Others spoke directly to the need for assistance, with one sign reading, "If you want live events on the other side, we need help to get to the other side." Messages seeking support were also displayed on a digital billboard in Times Square.

According to Jaclyn Bernstein, executive vice president of the Live Events Coalition for New York and New Jersey, the event was scheduled for July 31 because that was one week before Congress is set to adjourn for its August recess. The Coalition hopes that aid for the events industry will be included in the next stimulus package. Industry leaders have also called for Congress to extend eligibility for the Paycheck Protection Program to destination marketing organizations.

"Our industry is in a very dire situation," said Bernstein. "We are one of those forgotten industries, but we are more than a quarter of those who are unemployed. And for the most part, none of us have any business on the books until next year. The government needs to find a way to help us survive."