Pain of events organisers disrupted by pandemic

Che Dreammaker's founder Charyl Aseno Otung
Che Dreammaker's founder Charyl Aseno Otung (left) and Law Society of Kenya (LSK) President Nelson Havi during an event to mark his 100 days in office. The Covid-19 compliant event was organised by Che Dreammakers. PHOTO | COURTESY 

One of the business segments that that have suffered the most due to Covid-19 is events and exhibitions.

Physical distancing and staying at home as well as reduced domestic and international flights, have forced people to stay away from crowded events and functions, drastically denting the fortunes of an industry that was once solid and on an upward trajectory.

US-based allied market research study published in March 2019, indicates that the global events and exhibitions industry generated $1.1 trillion (Sh118 trillion) in 2018, and was projected to reach $2.3 trillion (Sh247 trillion) by 2026, with over 26 million professionals.

However, these figures are bound to sharply go down as millions of activities have either been cancelled or suspended due to the pandemic.

President Uhuru Kenyatta banned all major public events since March after the country confirmed first case of the new virus. This has considerably limited face-to-face contacts, a cornerstone of events and exhibitions industry.


Events entrepreneur Charyl-Anne Aseno Otung understands the pain the virus has inflicted in the sector. She says her firm, Che Dreamakers, has lost millions in revenues after she was forced to cancel many events.

Before Covid-19 struck, Ms Otung was doing pretty well. Among the events she had organised included opening of new Orange Democratics Movement’s Chungwa House commissioned by former Prime Minister Raila Odinga. She had also successfully planned the wedding of Langata MP Nixon Korir, among high-end corporate and social events.

However, since March, she has only managed to handle five events, a far cry from the stream of activities that were on her calendar.

“Upon the president’s announcement of the lockdown, I cancelled the event that was happening the following weekend upcountry. That was a repeat client. My team had worked tirelessly to exceed their expectations,” says Ms Otung, whose Nairobi-based firm runs events planning, styling, events furniture.

“Posters were printed, tents, chairs and fabrics all cleaned and packed, our transport vehicles serviced for the long journey, sanitisers bought. But sadly, we had to postpone.”

That was just one of her events that were aborted by the virus.

“Days later, we had to cancel and postpone several other events including weddings, birthday parties, showers, corporate events among others. Prior to Covid-19, business was good and since April is normally a peak season, we had lots of bookings ahead,” Ms Otung notes.

Even in the events she is organising, she has to be cautious and provide soaps and sanitisers, which add costs in already tough business environment.

The toughest work, though essential and not optional, is effectively effecting health protocols, she says.

“In all my events, I have ensured that everybody washes their hands at the entrance, temperatures measured and we always have washing and sanitising stations within the setup venue,” she says.

“Our seating plan is also one metre apart and we assign seats so that during the entire function, one sits on the same seat to avoid cross-contamination just in case one is unwell. We also ensure that when food is being served, all guests wear gloves to avoid food contamination too.”

The entrepreneur says she foresees radical transformation in the way events businesses will be handled going forward.

Virtual meetings, she adds, could be the new normal and she is already thinking of how to make her business more digital.

The industry, Ms Otungo says, has to embrace the digital platforms to survive such storms as the current pandemic ravaging the world.

The global virtual events market size was valued at $77.98 billion (Sh8.4 trillion) in 2019 and is expected to grow at a compound annual growth of rate (CAGR) of 23.2 per cent from 2020 to 2027, covering video and audio conferencing to live streaming and broadcasting, a new business model poised to change how events and exhibitions are organised.

And, though President Kenyatta has eased the restrictions put in place in March to contain the spread of the coronavirus, with a phased reopening meant to strike a balance between containing the virus and sustaining the country’s economic life, the move towards digital models of business is bound to continue apace

“Remodeling our business to navigate current wave to meet the market's most pressing needs is paramount to our business. We have no option but to think outside the box, mostly go digital, while maintaining our traditional core face-to-face market niche, as the way forward, during and post-Covid-19,” Ms Otung says.