Entertainment venues are reopening after a year of partial or total shutdowns. But things won’t be the same: Promoters, venue owners and employees will need new ways of doing business that will emphasize safety and minimize risk.
While vaccinations have slowed the transmission of COVID-19, it hasn’t disappeared and virus variants are still a danger. Seen in this light, entertainment venue operators and managers must apply the same diligence to risk management in reopening that they did early in the pandemic.
In order to reopen, venues — especially indoor ones — must implement protocols that ensure the safety of patrons, employees and performers and minimize liability to the business. In order to do so, venue owners and operators should assign a COVID compliance officer or team to enforce reopening protocols and ensure employees are trained to comply with them.
Reopening safely in four areas
HUB International has developed a comprehensive reopening playbook to help entertainment executives safely open venues. The playbook focuses on the following areas:
Employee health, safety and compliance: Venue operators must establish internal COVID-19 policies and procedures, based on guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as well as regulations from local health departments. Workers should be trained to follow these health and safety procedures. Employers should encourage vaccinations, such as offering time off to get vaccinated. COVID-19 risk mitigation practices should aim to keep employees safe, such as mandates on handwashing and physical distancing, and procedures and incentives for calling in sick.
Best practices for venue premises: Before reopening, operators should assess potential exposures, especially for interactions between patrons and employees, and implement a plan to reduce exposures. These should consider all stages of the patron experience, such as:
- Updating screening processes for entrance.
- Modifying food service with procedures such as eliminating self-serve options and using virtual menus.
- Performers, event organizers and contractors should have their own protocols, and the separation between them clearly delineated, formalized and communicated.
Patron responsibilities: This may be the trickiest area to manage. Operators should give patrons guidance on what is expected of them and the rationale for guidelines. This starts with communications from buying tickets through the event itself (using signs and making announcements throughout the venue).
Guarding against property loss: Reopening also is a good time to reevaluate the property’s operational policies and procedures for its compliance with regulatory requirements. The workspace may have to be changed or reconfigured given physical distancing requirements. Potential issues should be identified — for instance, bacteria growth can occur in facilities that have been vacant for an extended period, putting it at risk of spreading Legionnaires Disease. Enlist legal, insurance and other professionals to help craft policies and procedures, maintenance programs and new risk and insurance needs.
Ensuring construction safety: The collapse of a giant projection screen before the start of a music festival in July pointed to the need for event organizers to ensure event crews are up for the job. The 18-month layoff for music events and tours, which are often accompanied by large stage productions and equipment, may have dulled experienced event crews’ skills. Build venues and tour stages with special care. Ensure stages and structures are designed with the anticipated hazards in mind, built with special care and inspected regularly throughout the event.
In order for venues to open safely, owners and operators must develop an action plan and follow it. Document protocols and training. Find and use a comprehensive checklist to ensure it’s all being done as thoroughly as possible.