Take a look at the events industry, as told by Robert Blancaflor, on how it rises above adversity.
It was business as usual during the first quarter of the past year. Bursting with positivity, we were ready to take on what’s to come. We anticipated having all kinds of events lined up, weeks fully booked, and activities for the rest of the months only waiting to transpire. Our team was projecting another fruitful year–one that was overflowing with celebrations and milestones for Robert Blancaflor and Groups Inc. (RBGI) and 18th.ph.
Everything was working like a well-oiled machine as we executed operations and projects one after another. 2020 after all, was everybody’s year, although things turned out differently soon after.
The first taste of tragedy greeted us immediately last January 12, 2020, when the Taal volcano erupted after 42 years of dormancy. Our rentals team was setting up then for a wedding when this magmatic escalation happened. Our staff was left stranded for almost a week in the area as people struggled to save themselves from the unexpected nightmare. The city was literally turning gray with ashes as life and color were being completely wiped away. With this, many of our accounts for socials and rentals in the area of Batangas were either canceled or postponed. Thankfully at this time, we were quick to expect changes and adapt to them.
While the shock from the volcanic eruption was still lingering, the Metro tried to move forward as it assisted Batangas in all possible ways. We still pushed through with the other events we had in queue within the cities of Manila. The year proceeded with ease, giving time for its wings to fly by. We went through Valentine’s season–importing our flowers, filling our orders, and hitting our February quota. Immediately after the influx of wholesale and retail orders, we geared our attention to the month of March–a supposed month of weddings and corporate events. Little did we know, it was the beginning of a crisis that would shake us in all aspects.
As one may recall, during the first week of March, the cases of COVID-19 in the Philippines jumped from 10 cases to over a hundred in a week. Globally at the same time, this infectious disease has been recognized as a pandemic, which was caused by the coronavirus, as expressed by the World Health Organization. And it was on March 15, 2020, when the National Capital Region was placed on community quarantine.
On March 17, President Rodrigo Duterte declared that the Philippines was in a state of calamity. Guidelines and protocols were being set by the local and national governments to ensure the public’s safety. With alarming daily progressions brought about by the coronavirus, everything had been put to a halt–on-site work and business operations, public transportation, projects, and most especially events. Because of the sudden standstill, our social and corporate events were being postponed, as we waited for further announcements. We expected the first lockdown to last only a month and yet it went on. And just like us, people and organizations were all walking in the dark, given the situation of a medical emergency.
The Lockdown and its Lasting Impact on Events
At first, couples postponed their weddings in the hopes that the community quarantine will be lifted sooner and later, so they could still have their dream day at a later date. However, community quarantine durations were renewed monthly based on numbers and studies. As anybody would have been in a state of shock, it took some time before people accepted the fact that the situation would last much longer than expected.
The first few months in our company were mainly about new work setups and giving assistance to our employees. Our company is made up of regular office employees and a good percent of workers were on-call depending on event schedules and since there was little to no work, there was little to no income, too. Salary schedules were then fixed and game plans were discussed even if there was nothing definite at the time.
Going deeper in the year, our clients started to cancel events and request refunds from us. Although we have always been flexible with either rescheduling or refunding this time, we had to ask for their understanding, considering that cash flow was not as liquid as before the pandemic. Expenses soon piled up and there was no guarantee of significant revenue anytime soon.
Much later on, our company did what it had to in the name of survival–difficult cost-cutting on our general expenses, downsizing warehouse and storage, and retrenching some of our staff. Like any other business, it was undeniably one of the worst hits our company had experienced, but we still remained hopeful and optimistic as a team. We placed our focus heavily on the things we never had time to look at. We took the time to ponder on how to adapt to changes and give even more attention to our working environment, putting emphasis on the safety of our staff, clients, and anybody involved in our work.
National Live Events Coalition
Prior to the pandemic, I and the other respected names in the industry have been discussing the idea of having an organization for the events industry and its freelance workers, one that can be formally represented in the government.
As the virus brought havoc to the economy, the realization dawned on all suppliers and workers in the live events industry we were the first ones to be halted and we would be the last ones to bounce back. For this, the red alert button had to be pressed. This became the needed push for the idea to materialize and to finally give a voice for both backstage and onstage people, thus theNational Live Events Coalition (NLEC) was formed.
One of the greatest feats in the past year, the establishment and acknowledgment of the coalition paved the way for the industry to create an effective campaign to raise awareness on the state of live events. This included weddings, social events, and everything it encompassed. The coalition’s inception also opened doors for live events to be formally recognized as a large sector. Thus, we worked closely with the government for new safety guidelines, financial aid for live events workers, and to continuously include all independent and freelance workers under one umbrella, guiding them and addressing concerns within the industry. In such short a time, the boxes of our goals have been checked and are being continuously worked on for the gradual reopening of safe live events.
The formation of the NLEC transpired during the most perfect time when the people needed hope the most. This organization is a product of talents, great minds, and cooperative Filipino citizens uniting and standing up for each other and I am happy to be a part of it.
Weddings in the Time of Pandemic
If there’s a will, there’s a way. For a handful of our couples, not even the virus could stop them from tying the knot–that is, in accordance with all safety protocols, of course. This whole new trend in the wedding industry started with new normal setups and procedures and if there is one word to describe weddings in the new normal, it would be INTIMATE.
Given the restrictions set by the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) on the number of people in a gathering and the fact that the couples are ultimately concerned with the safety of their families, there was one way to do it: spending the day only with immediate families–the very same people living with them at home.
Our first wedding after a long while had only 10 people at the bride’s home. Events that came after only had the same number of guests and as of writing, most of our events remain to be intimate. This setup, we could say, had more sentimental value to it, which also brought back the true essence of a wedding. This was the case for our celebrity weddings in the time of the pandemic–one of which included Action Man Raffy Tulfo’s daughter, Maricel, and her groom, Atty. Garreth Tungol. It was a civil ceremony with a simple reception in the same venue.
Overall, styling intimate events are as exciting for us as the big ones because we are able to focus even more on details, plus we can feel the purity of love even in small home areas like gardens and living or dining areas.
What We Can Look Forward to
One of the channels that served as our safety net is our general events and online e-commerce website, www.18th.ph. Even before the pandemic, we wanted to have an online one-stop-shop for anything and everything that is needed for events, which can cater to anyone who wants to do an event—from coordinators to stylists, suppliers, and even brides who want to do their own wedding.
The website is a big treasure chest of our items and designs that could be rented or bought by clients. It is jam-packed with a wide inventory of rental items like tables, chairs, lounges, along with ready-made designs of table centerpieces, backdrops, entrance tunnels, ceiling designs, or even our collection of fresh and dried flowers sold in stems or bunches. As time goes by, we plan on adding more and more items for easy shopping and for the convenience of our clients.
We wish to become as innovative and as relevant as possible, envisioning wider options for bigger audiences and with better shopping experiences, later on through a mobile application. This will be the first and only Events Mobile Application in the Philippines and in the world, as it will be our response to the call for safer shopping and events trade amid the pandemic.
Right now, we are progressively coping and keeping up with the times. Looking at it in another way, we believe that trials are what keep things exciting. We could always go one at a time, day by day, and in the near future, we will look back like we just did and feel a sense of fulfillment–knowing that we have overcome many obstacles and hardships.
In RBGI and 18th.ph, we keep our optimism and our heads up high while staying level-headed and preparing for anything that may unfold. Soon enough, we would be in big live events again with the freshest of flowers, the grandest of designs, together with everybody, celebrating and flourishing. By being persistent and by having a clear vision of prosperity now, that already brings us halfway through our goal.
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