The loss of business events in Canberra for the foreseeable future could cost the local economy more than $50 million in the next year as restrictions on large gatherings have brought events, and the many businesses servicing them, grinding to a halt.
Figures from the Business Events Council of Australia found the economy nationally is set to lose $35.7 billion in direct expenditure over the next 12 months as 96 per cent of business events are cancelled or postponed due to COVID-19.
However, the nation's capital is well-positioned to make a recovery said owner of Canberra's event management company Consec, and BECA treasurer, Barry Neame.
"There will be a heavy focus on domestic travel. That is a strong position for Canberra to be in because we are quite centrally located," he said.
"We're well located between Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane and we've had a very good outcome to date for COVID infections."
With no events on the books for the rest of the year, Mr Neame's company has no income until December. Staff have moved to working from home part-time and he is awaiting the final stages of the Job Keeper payment to be processed.
The figures released by BECA revealed around 92,000 jobs were expected to be lost in the sector between the end of 2019 and June.
Despite the dire situation, Mr Neame remained positive that business events and conferences were a "controlled" event that could work to some social distancing restrictions allowing a quicker return.
"Conferences are a little different to Floriade or mass events," he said.
"We can establish spacing between delegates. We can introduce protocols that would be appropriate for that controlled environment."
Last year business events brought around $56 million to the ACT economy with a large portion of events bringing interstate visitors staying in hotels, eating out and going to local attractions. Mr Neame said the loss of these events could potentially mean a loss of at least $50 million to Canberra's economy.
'A lot of people get impacted when I take a cancellation'
Canberra's hotels were quick to get creative as interstate and international travel stopped, but director of Doma Group hotels Patrick Lonergan said there wasn't as much opportunity for flexibility for events of usually more than 300 people.
Cancellations started coming in last month, grinding the group's events business to a halt in early March.
"We've still got some tentative business on the books for August onward but people are obviously anxious about if they can proceed with that," Mr Lonergan said.
The abrupt stop to business doesn't only affect hotel staff but a long supply chain.
"People that come to Canberra and hold events are often going out to the national attractions, they're using other caterers, audiovisual companies. They're business has just stopped," he said.
"There's a lot of people that get impacted when I take a cancellation in a hotel."
Mr Lonergan agreed Canberra was in a good position to comeback from the impact of coronavirus but said ACT Government help would be needed to push domestic travel to the region.
"Canberra has a very good chance of bouncing back and being back in business as long as there is the right support from the government."
'We just hope we can still survive'
Catering made up 60 per cent of Kelly Wang's business, Psychedeli, which has been reduced like all food outlets to takeaway only from her city cafe.
The store is running with one third of its normal staff and reduced opening hours.
"I'm just trying to keep this shop open and pay some casual staff their wage every week," she said.
"It's hard, we have had one or two catering jobs since the coronavirus regulations."
"We just hope we can still survive."
Ms Wang who regularly catered business meetings and conferences said while she had adapted her services to provide individually packaged food the restrictions on gatherings meant there was simply no demand.
She acknowledged she was in a positive position by having the cafe and could maintain some revenue.
"It's a nightmare to go through but there's just nothing we can do."
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