Leading event industry professionals have called for a roadmap towards the safe return of the business events sector in Wales after a Pilot Event held at the Celtic Manor Resort exposed the unviability of present restrictions.

Under the guidance of Welsh Government, the Pilot Event at Celtic Manor on 20th May tested the risk mitigation measures proposed for the industry with a range of stringent health and safety measures in place.

Attendees were asked to carry out a COVID-19 lateral flow test on arrival, having already secured a negative PCR test in the days prior, three separate colour groups were assigned to manage delegate flow, and mask wearing was required when not seated for sessions.

Delegates were happy to comply with all protocols but the additional requirement to observe 2m physical distancing throughout the event demonstrated, most clearly, that meaningful business events would be impossible to sustain with these constraints on capacity.

Celtic Manor’s Caernarfon Suite can normally hold more than 1,000 people theatre-style in the two-thirds division of the room being utilised for the trial event. The 2m distancing configuration meant it was more or less full with the capped audience of 100 people.

While the roadmap set out in February for England already allows for events up to 1,000 people indoors, the reopening of the events sector in Wales has been much more cautious with reluctance to outline any schedule undermining client confidence and preventing advance bookings.

Both Celtic Manor Resort and ICC Wales have seen prestigious meetings scheduled for later in the year cancel in recent days and switch to venues elsewhere in the UK where confidence in reopening is much greater.

Ian Edwards, Chief Executive, Celtic Manor and ICC Wales said: “It’s fantastic to be back in a meeting room after more than a year, but just looking out over this eerie room, it’s clear we have a long way to go.

“We are lucky we have a room this size which means we can host this event, most venues will struggle to hold 50 people with 2m distancing in place. More than 70 staff are working on this event to look after only 100 delegates – numbers like that just do not stack up.

“Restrictions like this, and the fact we still do not have a roadmap or a schedule for the fuller reopening of the events sector, place us at a catastrophic disadvantage to competitors in other parts of the UK. It is vital that there is a four-nation approach to any regulations, to provide organisers with complete consistency across all of the UK and ensure Wales is not left behind.

Ian continued: “The great thing about business events is they are meticulously organised, with pre-arrival registration and information, controlled numbers and compliant delegates, which I think we’ve shown with our Pilot Event. We would like to thank everyone for their support because it shows just how determined everyone is to get us back up and running for real. We cannot wait to welcome everyone back, but it has to be in a feasible and viable manner.”

Attendees enjoyed a full programme of activity throughout the day, including an inspirational keynote presentation from Ted X speaker and Olympic diving medallist, Leon Taylor, break-out sessions focussed on the safe return of business events, and a catered lunch trialling three different options typical to the sector.

Public Health Wales officials were present to observe the event and provide feedback to Welsh Government. Survey responses will also be gathered from attendees to shape the business events reopening strategy in Wales.

The Pilot Event at the Celtic Manor Resort was one of nine indoor and outdoor pilot events throughout South Wales, in partnership with Welsh Government.