As the vaccine rollout progressed, there was hope in the live events industry that there would be a return to normal. Optimism rose, the country reopened, and live events started to happen. Yet, that optimism soon began to wobble as the Delta variant of Covid-19 struck. As one event organizer interviewed by Fortune in a piece on live events said, it feels like Groundhog Day.
The Delta variant is unlike any other variant of Covid-19 because it is more transmissible and also more dangerous than prior variants. The variant is so dangerous that it has reduced vaccine effectiveness of all the major vaccines, so that the success of vaccine programs has now been redefined as preventing severe outcomes such as hospitalization and death. According to Public Health Scotland, at least a fortnight after a person has received their second dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, protection from infection fell from 73% for the Alpha variant to 60% for the Delta variant for the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, while for the Pfizer vaccine the protection fell from 92% to 79%.
These developments have wreaked havoc on the goal of live event organizers to return to normal in 2021 and rebound the industry. Organizers now have to maintain a vigil over their emails and Google alerts, fearing that one of their events will be canceled because of the Delta variant.
Event organizers believed they had a pathway to success. They counted on everyone getting vaccinated by this time, though forecasts by the Good Judgment Project estimates that 80% of the population (some 265 million people) will be fully vaccinated by March 2022. Organizers believed that they had a workable formula: reduce capacity, hold events outdoors with social distancing, have on-site testing for unvaccinated staff and guests, and together with local authorities, ensure that health and safety guidelines were adhered to. Now, that playbook looks outdated.
The Delta variant has driven up Covid-19 cases, hospitalization and deaths across the world and led to fears about returning to offices and hosting live events. Business hubs such as Austin, Las Vegas, Miami, New Orleans and Orlando have been battered by the Delta variant. The New York International Auto Show has been postponed from September to an as yet to be announced date. The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival has also been postponed. It’s become clear that in planning events, whether in corporate event rooms, or outdoors, organizers must take even greater measures to protect participants’ health and safety.
With this more transmissible, more dangerous variant, even vaccinated people are in danger. Event managers have to weigh the risks and benefits of holding an event. With so much invested into live events, in terms of capital, emotion and time, it can be hard to press the exit button, but event organizers are cognizant of the needs to protect public health and safety. The costs of the wrong decision can be catastrophic, not just for the public, but for event organizers too.
The multi-billion dollar live event industry has been struggling to recover from the hit it took when the pandemic first struck.