Coronavirus: Event firms face close to zero income

Events management firm Neo.TM's managing director Neo Yong Aik (left) and Mr Sheldon Gooi, president of the Singapore Talents, Artiste and Resources Association, at the Neo.TM office in Jalan Besar. Mr Neo is working with Mr Gooi to improve represent
Events management firm Neo.TM's managing director Neo Yong Aik (left) and Mr Sheldon Gooi, president of the Singapore Talents, Artiste and Resources Association, at the Neo.TM office in Jalan Besar. Mr Neo is working with Mr Gooi to improve representation for firms such as Neo.TM.ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHEN

Revenue down 90% or more for many companies as clients put off events

The fallout from the coronavirus outbreak is hammering event management companies, with revenue down 90 per cent or more, compared with the same period last year, for many firms.

Measures to curb the spread of the virus - such as social distancing, travel restrictions and capping the number of attendees - have led to shows, exhibitions and conferences being cancelled.

Mr Neo Yong Aik, managing director of event management firm Neo.TM, said: "Our jobs are almost (all) cancelled from the end of January."

Revenue for last month was almost zero, he added, noting that turnover was almost $500,000 in the same period last year.

Mr Neo, who has offices in Tokyo, Shanghai and Singapore, counts international banks among his clients.

Eventions Group creative director Jeff Goh and Innotrek managing director Tony Tan reported similar declines in business.

Mr Tan, whose firm organises outdoor education camps and team bonding exercises for companies, said that he is usually busiest in the first half of the year, but his schedule is now "totally empty". Income for last month was zero, he added.

"Currently, because of cancellation policies, many customers who had confirmed their events with us have opted for postponement instead. But I foresee these to end in cancellation as well," he said.

Mr Goh said cancellations started streaming in at the start of last month. His firm organises mostly corporate events.

"Ninety-eight per cent of events were postponed or cancelled in phases. Before there was community spread, clients and organisers cancelled out of fear that guests may not want to turn up. When it turned to (Disease Outbreak Response System Condition) Orange, we immediately received calls and notices to postpone (or) cancel events."

The bosses told The Straits Times that meeting rent and payroll expenses was their main priority.

 
 

Mr Neo, who has 25 employees, said salaries had been cut between 20 per cent and 30 per cent last month, and they will be halved this month. He is considering asking staff to go on no-pay leave next month.

Mr Tan, who has 10 full-time staff, said: "Some of my staff have been with me for more than 10 years. It will be tough to let them go.

"If this situation lasts for a year, we need to think of new ways to have income and to make sure the staff still have a job," he added.

Mr Goh, who has eight workers, said: "We are (wholly) dependent on income from events. There is now a major problem in sustaining overheads and retaining employment, considering there are zero events."

Mr Neo said he is trying to make more out of the first floor of his three-storey office in Jalan Besar, by allowing customers to use it as a livestream venue in a move to grow business as more people work from home.

Clients can use a 13.5m by 3.5m LED wall as a backdrop to livestream events as a way to "gather virtually, not physically", he said.

 
 

Mr Neo posted about the livestream initiative on LinkedIn, and has already received queries about charges, he said. He hopes to get three to five customers a month to help cover overhead costs.

Mr Neo is also working with Mr Sheldon Gooi, president of the Singapore Talents, Artiste and Resources (Star) Association, an industry body that represents freelancers, event management companies and vendors, to improve representation for firms like his.

Mr Gooi said Star is devising courses to keep employees in the industry occupied and motivated.

He urged firms to upgrade workers' skill sets to make the most out of the recovery when the virus ordeal passes. Training can also be a way to "get (employees) invested in the future", he added.

Once workers are higher-skilled, event management companies can better ensure the quality of the events they organise and can cope better with the rush that is sure to come when the economy bounces back, Mr Gooi said.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 23, 2020, with the headline 'Event firms face close to zero income'. Print Edition | Subscribe