THE SPECIAL events industry, which includes event planners and food caterers, is witnessing the devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Business has slowed down significantly, with little or no clients in some cases.
Small business owners and vendors have, in turn, been forced to find creative ways to survive and keep their services relevant in times of ongoing uncertainty.
Roxanne Pantin, owner of iCreate Events, told Express Business that traditionally, the period June to August is busy for event planners, with graduations, weddings and corporate functions, but with the pandemic many of these have been postponed or some clients have opted to do virtual events.
Pantin, who is also interim president of the Caribbean Association of Event Professionals, said her company does more major corporate events and that is at a standstill. But she quickly stated that the business community has been very supportive by allowing some planners to organize virtual events.
“This does not bring in a huge amount of income and surely cannot sustain staff, but it is filling a gap and this we are grateful for. Before Covid, my business was looking up for 2020 as I had my usual clients booking their conferences and other new ones coming on board and then the pandemic struck. So I would say my business is down by 70 per cent as opposed to last year.”
Another major blow for the multi-million dollar industry Pantin said is that the Caribbean Association of Event Professionals was in the process of standardizing the industry, by letting the owners pay their taxes and getting the company registered. But that whole drive has come to a screeching halt.
What she would like see addressed soon is the salary relief grants, which her workers who are still at home, have not yet received.
The president also called for a meeting with Tourism Minister Randall Mitchell to discuss how the industry can be pivotal in helping diversify the economy.
Kathleen Maynard, who owns Insync Events and Interior Ltd, said that her business has come to a complete halt and she is using this downtime to sign up for webinars to see how virtual events are being conducted and how technology is making it possible.
“For me I do not wholly depend on the business for an income, as I am a lecturer at the UWI Arthur Lok Jack School of Business, but I do hope that a proper vaccine is found soon so that industry can open back up, as it has been a struggle for many and I also have a passion for planning and executing a good event,” Maynard said.
On the wedding aspect, Express Business spoke to Simone Sant-Ghuran founder & editor-in-chief of Trinidad Weddings, who said 2020 has been rough a year for everyone and finding innovative ways to survive is a must.
Sant-Ghuran said that many wedding planners have been struggling, even though intimate weddings are taking place, but it is not enough to sustain a business.
She noted that it’s against this background her company in June, launched a new online platform called TW Marketplace giving wedding and event professionals a more interactive and budget-friendly option for advertising and promoting their packages and services. It is also geared at helping engaged couples find all the services they need in one place.
In the food catering business, which has faced widespread event cancellations due to Covid, Jamie Hadeed owner of Boomerang Caterers said 2020 was shaping really well for the business as they were catering for several big weddings, but since the pandemic the weddings have been put off to 2021 and 2022.
According to Hadeed, while the food company is still having some weddings at a reduce number; she is seeing increased demand for more intimate catering at people’s home.
“We just have to work with what we got now and even in this economic challenge, Boomerang which has been around for 40 years, has not sent home staff. We now have our workers on rotation in order for them to earn a living. I was hopeful that we would have been able to start back catering on a full scale for Christmas functions, but with the positive Covid numbers increasing rapidly on a daily basis, it looks impossible,” said Hadeed.
Also giving her views on the industry was Donna Wyke-Reece, owner/concept developer of Fanatic Kitchen Studio located at Corner of Deer Street and Melville Lane, Port of Spain.
Wyke-Reece said the past few months have been devastating, as the catering industry was the first to get shut down and it might very well be the last to be reopened.
“I quite understand however in my opinion this unfortunate turn of events is taking the hospitality industry backwards just as we were making strides and becoming serious entrepreneurs and employing in large numbers.
“I already know of quite a few event planners who have called it a day and many others are hanging by a thread. The caterers seem to be doing a bit better and now I have noticed that there are many new catering and delivering services entering the market... as to whether they are health certified is another matter for concern.”
The owner of kitchen studio added that while her business is down by 70 per cent, she will give it her all to remain operational.
And, Michelle Denny-Wilson, owner of Dennys Catering Events said while things have been tough, she has seen an increase in individuals ordering food on a weekly basis as more people are home.
“Pre Covid we catered to businesses for their breakfast and lunch meetings, but now that is at standstill the food company had to do other things to keep afloat,” she said.
Denny-Wilson is hopeful that 2021, things can go back to normal as the business of 15 years was starting to grow further.
Another sector that has been hit is the beauty industry, as the vast majority of people do not have any functions or events to attend.