By Vivian Onyebukwa And Vera Wisdom-Bassey
For many people in the hospitality industry, these are not the best of seasons. Since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic in the country more than a year ago, things have gone apart for them, and the centre has refused to hold.
Many of them might not wear their agony on their faces, but for these people who are into events planning and whose jobs are done mostly at event centres and hospitality facilities, the past many months have been filled with uncertainty and loss of income.
At the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic in the country, the Federal and State Governments decided to restrict the number of people in public gatherings. Bars, nightclubs, event centres and other entertainment centres were shut down. Even the meeting capacities of churches and mosques were limited. Schools were ordered to shut down indefinitely. Concerts, carnivals and street parties were banned.
Gradually, some of the restrictions have been lifted, but the government has yet to fully reopen a lot of businesses in the hospitality sector. Since then, this has taken a toll on these businesses, their owners and workers. Those groaning include event planners, caterers, ushers, bouncers, drink suppliers, interior decorators, musicians, and many others.
K-Square Multidimensional Limited is one of Nigeria’s leading security companies. Headed by Kunle Komolafe as Managing Director, what the company does is to provide security and bouncers at events.
Sharing his experience, Komolafe said: “The COVID-19 pandemic caught everyone unawares at a time we least expected. Because the nature of our job involves large gathering and close contacts, we are greatly affected. Our sector was shut down, and we are still operating at 20 per cent capacity. Events have not come back on board and it has really affected our operations and general cash inflow. A job that we did some years back requiring about 20 personnel, today same job is done with probably four personnel because it is virtual and with regulated guests. Most of us have actually gone into diversification to enable us to stay afloat. We can’t wait for business to get back to normal. It has not been easy sustaining our personnel and also running the office. But we still give glory to God for everything.”
Chief Brenda Ifeoma Esokawu is an event planner, interior decorator, and the CEO of Ifybre Esteem Kulture. The company provides interior decoration services for different occasions. But the company has also had its fair share of the devastating effects of COVID-19 on businesses.
Relating her experience, Esokawu told Saturday Sun how the pandemic has dealt a blow on her flourishing business.
She said: “Before the COVID-19 pandemic, we had a massive surge in events planning and conferences, ranging from weddings, seminars, musical concerts, awards ceremonies and so on, almost on daily basis at different locations. However due to the COVID19 pandemic outbreak, we have witnessed a low or zero turn out in events planning. The effect of the pandemic is nothing to cheer about, as we have recorded losses in finance and most companies folded up as they were forced to shut down. The presence of Zoom and other virtual platforms has further contributed to the downturn in the industry. More so, the restrictions of people in social gatherings by the government also hampered our business service. We are hoping that as social gathering restrictions are called off and the pandemic begins to phase out, businesses will begin to boom for us as before.”
Caterers have also not been immune to the effects of the pandemic on businesses. Laide Ajayi lamented that COVID has almost paralysed her business but for God’s grace and mercy. “It’s a wonderful phase of life. Thank God for life,” she said.
Another caterer, Chinenye Peace Ibekwe of Stainless Kitchen & Event Planning, equally stated that the situation has been terrible.
“There are no events, no gathering because it is only when there are events and gathering of people that we sell and make business. Now we cook on order online. When customers can’t come to you, you go to them. We deliver meals to families and my dispatch rider delivers them. Mostly, it has been just indoor parties that I have been catering for. I must also add that the social media, my Instagram handle, Facebook have been great for indoor parties and family meals orders. It is now left for me to make sure my food tastes as it looks for people to order more. The fear of COVID sometimes even make people not to invite a handful of people into their homes. In fact, where we get orders for large cooking is actually in the South-East, for burials and traditional weddings. Lagos is still practising COVID-19 restrictions. We pray they relax their rules,” she said.
Según Ajoe, the CEO of Global Media, lamented that his firm has been having issues as a result of lack of business. He said as a technician who mounts mostly loud speakers during events, it has not been easy for him, his company and his staff. Ajoe, who is also an entertainer, said the pandemic has made it difficult for them to do their jobs. He said he has been forced to go into other businesses.
“I don’t put my eggs in one basket,” he said. “I have gone into other areas like consultancy and property management.”
Mr Jolly Oyeme, the CEO of Jolly Banqueting Ventures, Shasha, Lagos, popularly known as Frenchman, supplies generators, air-conditions, chairs, lights, carpets, canopies, among others at events. He expressed bitterness at the anguish brought upon the entertainment and hospitality business by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The pandemic affected the business drastically. It has been very tough and critical because of the Lagos State and the Federal Government regulations and restrictions on events around the country. The events industry has been much affected, and a lot of them are folding up. Some are owing a lot of debts because most times they take loans from banks,” he lamented.
The reporter met him at an event in Ibeju, Lekki, Lagos. But he said the event had been paid for and that since his firm could not return the money to the organisers, he had to find a way to supply the materials and install the equipment.
He regretted that he had been unable to pay the salaries of quite a number of his staff, adding that some of them had even been retrenched.
Oyeme said he had diversified into some petty businesses to feed his family. He was, however, hopeful that things would go back to normal soon.
Sarah Ekeh, another events planner, said business had been very bad since the outbreak of the pandemic.
“It has been tough for me,” she noted. “Some of my events have been cancelled this year because of lack of funds. It is frustrating for us all. There are some business owners who have lost their livelihoods. There have also been a lot of events that have been cancelled. For event planners, it means seeing money disappear.”
But some of the practitioners in the hospitality industry have quickly adapted, using technology to refocus their businesses.
Kemi Otegbade, an events consultant and the brain behind Heartlink Ventures Ltd, is one of such. She told Saturday Sun that COVID-19 has affected almost all industries especially events, party planning and productions.
“It took us all unawares,” she told the newspaper. “At first, we were living in denial and assumed it will be over within a month or two. Alas, it was not meant to be”.
She lamented the loss that those in the entertainment industry had encountered through this period. “We all lost incomes. All our plans could not be actualised and everyone was more concerned with surviving health-wise. We lost so many close associates and at this period, mental health, as a topic, had to be taken seriously”.
As a result, Kemi said her company had to organise a well-attended three-hour summit on mental health, which she intends to continue regularly through Zoom. “Now, most events are organised through Zoom. Weddings and burials are hosted via Zoom and we all had to learn how to host parties for clients online by force, though the inflow is not as buoyant as physical parties. Of course, COVID-19 affected our income, so most of us diversified and are working remotely.
“For example my company was production consultant for a documentary on COVID-19, specifically for farmers who had to be at work while we were all on lockdown. Casting and scripting was done on Zoom and the cast and crew observed all COVID protocols. If I was told a year earlier that I would do a production remotely from my bed, I would say it’s not possible. The new normal has taught us to never say never, and also to have multiple strings of income.”
Ngozi Omambala, Founder/CEO, NMO Management and PR Ltd also shared similar views in an interview.
Her words: “COVID 19 was brutal to the entertainment industry, bringing the sector to a complete stop almost overnight with the implementation of lockdown rules, regulations and protocols of social distance and wearing of masks.”
Omambala said the human nature of entertainment and hospitality, as a result of close proximity of people, made all social gatherings – clubs, concerts, live shows and so on, become impossible for health and safety.
“The onset of the COVID 19 lockdown in March 2020 forced us to rethink and reset. Physical locations for our shows were abruptly closed overnight. We capitalised on our strong online presence and transferred all our music and event platforms online with a scaled down physical operation while following the strict health protocols directives of Lagos State. We bravely navigated the technical challenges and glitches that randomly and continue to present themselves. However, the outcome has been rewarding. We have successfully held monthly live events online for a year and celebrated the ninth anniversary for the first time ever virtually, with a live performance showcased in a COVID-compliant safe environment. Our online presence has gone from strength to strength. The attained experience and knowledge has been invaluable for our platform brands.”
Owambala noted that the COVID pandemic has been a bitter-sweet pill to swallow. “Out of adversity, a strong virtual community emerged in which our events flourished and evolved, opening our brands to audiences from new international markets exporting brand Nigeria/ Africa to the world. To date, we still receive online engagement from the 2020 fashion show and look forward to this year’s Pan African 7th annual Music Fashion Runway (MFR) and Game Changer Africa Acknowledgement Awards (GCAA) event with great optimism.
“No doubt, the pandemic has been debilitating for many businesses. However, innovation and thinking outside the box, outside your comfort zones may be the way forward to giving your business a fair chance of overcoming the challenges that COVID-19 presents while it is still prevalent.”