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It's the Ship organiser and Livescape CEO Iqbal Ameer talks Covid-19's impact on the future of Asian festivals, as the focus shifts to regaining consumer confidence
By IQ on 15 Apr 2020
Asia was the first continent to bear the brunt of the coronavirus outbreak, but not all suffered the peak at the same time.
Speaking to promoters in China and South Korea at the end of March, IQ found that some more stringent restrictions were beginning to be lifted and a “cautious sense of optimism” was settling in, even if the return to touring as we know it is still a long way off.
Now, the situation in countries in southeast Asia, which had staved off sharp spikes in cases until relatively recently, is worsening. Cases in Singapore have begun to rise again, the Indonesian capital of Jakarta has entered lockdown and the Malaysian government has extended its social distancing measure for a second time, until 28 April.
IQ catches up with Iqbal Ameer, CEO of Livescape Group, which operates in all three markets, to discuss government reactions, consumer confidence and the live industry post Covid-19.
IQ: What have you learned so far from the Covid-19 outbreak?
IA: The most important thing? That supporting each other brings out the best in people. We’re no stranger to being dealt with shit cards in the deck, and as a company have had crazy challenges over the past ten years. But now this is a global scale, and we’ve really seen the importance of community and how it is a driving force in achieving anything.
We’ve also learnt that adaptability is key in situations like this. We are hard at work in extending our festival brands and our business model to be more digitally focused. We are proud of our festivals that we have built and carry those badges on our chest. The challenge here is to ensure that we continue to deliver the same Livescape experience to our fans during trying times.
When do you think the recovery might start in Asia Pacific and how is the Livescape Group preparing for this?
At this point in time, we are all uncertain about when the actual recovery period is. Although there has been significant advances in Asian countries compared to Europe and America, we are still remaining vigilant – anything can happen.
Asia-Pacific alone has over 51 million people affected in the music industry, and this is no small number
The Livescape Group is based in three countries: Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia. We are anticipating post-Covid-19 to be vital in economic stimulation, and we are working with the respective government bodies to ensure that events can continue by implementing precautionary measures with a focus on the health and wellbeing of music fans.
We are also pivoting some of our assets to be more lifestyle orientated.
How do you feel about the government response to the situation across the markets you operate in?
We have seen most governments around the region offering stimulus packages to help with the nation’s economy during this unprecedented time. Unfortunately for some of us based in Malaysia, most of it does not benefit us directly. As a member of Alife (Association of the Arts, Live Festivals and Events), Livescape is having continuous open discussions with the Malaysian government about the issues of postponement or cancellations, and are demanding that we are considered as well. Asia-Pacific alone has over 51 million people affected in the music industry, and this is no small number.
However, countries such as South Korea and Singapore have set ideal global practices for other countries to follow suit; which would contribute to the speed of the recovery. With our festival It’s the Ship being based in Singapore, we are thankful for the swift and fast action of the Singaporean government. We support their initiatives to get the arts and live sector up and running as soon as possible. (The Singaporean government has provided a $55 million arts and culture resilience package, including $20,000 grants for digital projects).
What changes might we see long term across the industry, and the festival business in particular?
It is naive to say that this pandemic will not change the core nature of the festival business. Already, we are seeing festivals and artists venturing into the digital space with livestreaming performances along with an increase of creative content being shared out in hopes to connect during this void of live events with their fans and community. Although it is a short-term solution to fill the void of live events, we do not consider this to be a road to recovery, as we believe that the live event experiences are irreplaceable.
We also expect a stronger focus on local talents, due to the nature of the interaction of communities during this period of time, and local gigs would be quicker to pick up post Covid-19.
The global pandemic has impacted the events industry in an unprecedented manner but we are optimistic about the long-term demand for live, experiential experiences
Post Covid-19, people will also be more wary in terms of how they experience live events in large gathering situations. It is then our responsibility as event organisers to ensure that we have procedures in place to address concerns relating to the health and safety measures such as temperature checks and sanitisation booths.
In some ways, people will also come to realise what our company has been preaching for the past ten years: experience comes first. We definitely see a desire for people to connect in person and we will not discount the renaissance of the roaring 20s, an era that was sparked after a period of difficult times.
Being a floating festival, do you foresee any particular challenges with the future of It’s the Ship?
We feel the challenges are across the board for all festivals. I’d be lying if I said no, but we are optimistic and never risk the safety and wellbeing of our shipmates. That has always been a top priority of ours, unfortunately the term “the show must go on” does not apply to us in this situation.
We’ve been transparent with that in our community and in our communications, with a campaign revolving around #StayHomeToComeHome, where we continuously share relevant news and information through our social platforms.
Being a floating festival, It’s the Ship provides a unique experience in terms of venue, as it takes place onboard a ship. The advantage is the fact that the venue puts us in a controlled environment that allows us to manage and plan prior to the event itself. We are also working very closely with the cruise company, which has recently put in place comprehensive health and safety preventive measures for the ease and comfort of our attendees.
At Livescape, we’re thankful to the partners we work with, especially cruise lines that we work with who have offered extremely affordable rates to ensure that It’s the Ship continues its multiple voyages in the years to come.
In Asia in particular, the main challenge would be rebuilding people’s confidence in attending large-scale events
What more general challenges do you think the industry face getting back up to speed?
In Asia in particular, the main challenge would be rebuilding people’s confidence in attending large-scale events. Putting in health and safety preventive measures will be key in reassuring our community.
The global pandemic has impacted the events industry in an unprecedented manner but we are optimistic about the long-term demand for live, experiential experiences! With social distancing being practised globally, audiences will be craving live, interactive experiences more, which will create the opportunity for experiential events to bounce back at a greater scale.
At Livescape, what have you been doing to adapt to life in the wake of coronavirus?
With a strong team in a resilient industry, our team has been taking this time working from home to diversify our business models and digitising our assets and communities. Our core philosophy has remained the same, but our execution will differ, moving towards more digitalisation – something extremely adaptable. This will be more evident once all this is over.
Until then, we will embrace the changes, continue to evolve to adapt to the situation and to be there for our industry, as well as the local communities, to the best of our ability.
Livescape has continued to build relationships and trust with our clients and partners who have approached us with the same vision of diversifying in mind. We work hand-in-hand in developing some very successful campaigns for big and small SMEs alike and we highly recommend that other companies do the same and look into opportunities available.
Remember always: We write the future!
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