Out in the cold

Frustration: Owners of local events company Fitzpatricks Lisa and Aaron Young are yet again feeling the negative effects of another lockdown. photograph zac standish

Zac Standish

FORCED to deal with last minute cancellations, strict venue capacities, a lack of certainty among potential clients and limited external assistance, you will be hard-pressed to find an industry hit harder than the entertainment service over the past 16 months.

With countless major events across the Latrobe Valley region cancelled over this time, local hire company Fitzpatricks Entertainment and Fireworks has felt the full wrath of the COVID-19 pandemic, and are now bracing themselves for another tough period following the state’s fifth snap lockdown.

Run by Traralgon couple Aaron and Lisa Young, the pair detailed their initial reaction to the current lockdown and what it means for the business.

“Frustrating is probably the word that summarises it,” Mr Young said.

“It is very challenging for us to work with all the clients we work with that need medium to long-term time frames to plan their activities, so when lockdowns are announced that immediately kills most of our business services.”

This continues what has been an unfortunate cycle for the industry, as Mr Young explained just how devastating the pandemic has been for his company.

“The impact has been significant, we have had a 90 per cent reduction in revenue, there have been a large number of annual community events that have been cancelled for the first time in many years or in some cases ever,” he said.

“(Managing) the workforce, we have about a dozen people who work for us on a casual basis, so there has been no work for any of those people and in most cases that is their only source of income so it has been very challenging for them and frustrating for us not being able to support them – overall the business has really suffered.”

While businesses in the retail and hospitality sectors have had the opportunity to adapt to this new climate by offering services such as takeaway, delivery and online shopping, the entertainment service industry has not been so lucky.

“One of the key difficulties has been while other businesses have been able to adapt their business models to bring some income in, the services we offer are not able to be delivered to those models, we can’t do a jumpy castle for takeaway or if a musician does an online concert they don’t need staging and lights they just use their computer,” he said.

“I think the entertainment industry is falling through the cracks, we are not the first thing that comes to mind when people are in trying times which is fine for those who have other workplaces but not so if your livelihood is dependent on that.”

This idea of “falling through the cracks’, can also be seen through a lack of support which he said has only added to their current predicament.

“There has been very limited support for our industry, there has been some discussions with government and various groups to try and provide some support but the reality is there is not a desire to want to encourage a quick return to having large groups of people gathered for events,” he said.

“I think there is much less focus on

the entertainment industry than there has been hospitality for examples purely because there are less people involved, in our case this is a very small industry so there has been much less concerted effort to provide support – there has been some support provided but it has been far less than other business who have a more visual footprint.”

For businesses such as Fitzpatricks, the troubles do not end when restrictions ease, with the uncertainty of the community seeing people not willing to plan the large-scale events they make their living off.

“Every time there is a lockdown, events for the next two to three months are cancelled as organisers cancel them because they haven’t got confidence we won’t return to another lockdown or there will be further restrictions in place,” he said.

“Pre-COVID we would have a calendar with 50 per cent capacity booked 12 months in advance of a range of services and then month-to-month clients would book one-to-three months ahead for other events, but what we are now getting is zero visibility of future activities, no commitment from clients and people making inquiries on very short notice and not confirming until the day of the booking which makes it hard for us.”

Moving forward, Mr Young had this message to the community and potential customers.

“We want people to support local businesses, we are carbon-neutral business and are very community orientated with 50 per cent of our annual profits returned to charity, so it will be great for when circumstances permit for people to think of us and utilise our services for your next event,” he said.