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Sri Lankan event association pleads for equal treatment

Coming out of a 15-month events standstill, the association alleges “stepmotherly treatment” in the country’s new 50-attendee rule.

EMA president Roshan Wijeyaratne calls for standardised rules for all events.
EMA president Roshan Wijeyaratne calls for standardised rules for all events. Photo Credit:Event Management Association

Sri Lanka’s Event Management Association (EMA) is making a plea for the government to extend sectoral re-opening to corporate events, claiming that its ongoing appeals have gone unheard.

Speaking at a press conference last week, Roshan Wijeyaratne, President, EMA, bemoaned the “stepmotherly treatment” that the corporate events industry is facing. 

The government had recently allowed weddings capped at 150 attendees, leaving the association “concerned and confused” as to why “lower risk”  business events are held to a 50-pax limit.

Fifty-person events are no help to its members, he expressed. “No company is going to hire us for conferences or product launches with this limit... For events of such scale, companies can simply use smaller sound systems or projectors provided by hotels," Wijeyaratne explained.

Until Covid-19 hit, the country's events sector had been looking forward to 2020 as a year of recovery after losing months of work from the political turmoil of late 2018, followed by the Easter Sunday bombings of 2019. The impact of the pandemic has been the most drawn out of the three, lasting 15 months and counting, according to Wijeyaratne. 

"Some event companies have gone bankrupt and some are on the brink. We proposed guidelines [that will allow for safe reopening], but unfortunately this is still sitting on a table somewhere... If we have a fourth wave and [the current restrictions] continue, the industry will not be able to survive. Event companies have no income and no collaterals to get funds from banks," he confided.

The association represents 65 members including those providing lighting and sound equipment, decoration and comperes, as well as wedding planners. Companies have sunk millions of rupees into inventory, with no way to recoup.

The association is appealing for the government to raise the maximum number of attendees allowed for business events to 150, matching what is allowed for weddings. “Treat us the same way. We are not asking for double standards. We want one standard for the industry, whether corporate events, weddings or fashion shows," Wijeyaratne said.

He pointed out that many events can proceed with mask-on, fixed seating rules. For such events, the association is calling for a maximum limit of 50% of the venue capacity. Guests can sit and watch the event, without the need to remove their mask or be in close proximity, he added. 

EMA believes that larger events can be held safely if the proper rules are observed. It has taken the downtime to put together a handbook of event safety guidelines. 

The EMA Handbook sets out steps and guidelines based on global best practices. This includes the appointment of safe management ambassadors tasked to monitor for compliance and enforce the rules.

The association is eager to get out the message that the events sector is not in the party business. “People are issuing directives thinking we are a party industry.

“We have been a very responsible industry. We drew up guidelines and offered a sustainable solution to keep the industry alive. We want to support the government to start the industry, and help make sure everyone follows the rules for the safety of everyone in this country," Wijeyaratne assured.

Amid the challenges, the association is receiving some support from the Sri Lankan NTO. “The tourism board acknowledges that the MICE industry is huge, and brings in a lot of foreign exchange. It is helping us by conducting workshops to improve safety standards. This is currently on hold, but approval has been given," the president shared.

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