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Reflecting on the challenges of 2020 with Michael Rodrigues

It’s been a very busy 2020 for Time Out Managing Director and Chair of the Night Time Industries Association (NTIA) Michael Rodrigues. As well as driving campaigns like Keep Our Venues Alive and Check.Check.Check to keep the hospitality industry functioning during the pandemic, he has also recently won the Mumbrella Publish Awards for Publish Leader of the Year and Publishing Company of the Year.

So Bars and Clubs sat down with Mike to reflect on 2020, the challenges and the successes and to try and have a look at what the future might bring.

Looking back on the year, Mike told Bars and Clubs: “The NTIA has just turned two years old and we finished our first AGM on February 20. And looking back on that we had the bushfires and we were saying this coronavirus, this could be a thing.

“We had all this optimism about getting scale and growing and then at the end of February, beginning of March the restrictions started happening.

“But I remember thinking we really needed to help smaller businesses. The larger scale businesses with different revenue schemes got cash flow relief from the Government straight away, but the small businesses that were cash businesses were just getting haemorrhaged so we jumped on that.”

That was where the Keep Our Venues Alive campaign kicked off, which Mike explained was really a campaign to get “hospitality front and centre”.

“It’s everywhere now, but at the time it took a while for government to think about the sector. If you think about some of the first bailouts it was Qantas and hospitality as a sector didn’t register, and I think it suffered from its lack of unity.

“One of the things you learn, particularly during a crisis is the more you can get onto the same page with other stakeholders, the more government will listen to you. Our work at the NTIA has been to try to better align whatever parts of the sector we can and I think we’ve achieved that.”

Additionally an important function or aim of the NTIA has been to shift the focus of the night-time economy, particularly in New South Wales, so encompass more than just alcohol, pubs and bars.

“I think at its most broad, what the NTIA is trying to do is manage the narrative around the importance of the 24-hour economy and not making it solely about alcohol, which is one of the common misconceptions.

“If you think about the average age of the decision makers in government and people’s experience with going out at night. If you say ‘open 24 hours’ they think people are going to drink for 24 hours. It’s not about that, it’s about having an economy that can function as an economy for up to 24 hours a day.

“Because we tend to focus on the day part of the economy rather than the night-time, the natural position becomes ‘this is all about alcohol’ but it is far from that.”

For instance Mike suggests that the 24 hour economy should be looked at as a strategy for stimulating growth outside of traditional dining out precincts and embrace cultures. Look at Chinese New Year, a time not about drinking culture but something that has been embrace by Sydneysiders.

“Could you imagine if the city said we’ll encourage Ramadan to be celebrated in Botanic Gardens and the foreshore. We’re going to allow Middle Eastern barbecue. That’s an alcohol free festival on Sydney’s foreshore.

“These are the kind of things we’re talking about with diversity. Diversity isn’t easy, it’s challenging for everyone. So how that conversation between community groups and government to make things like that happen? The answer is the Night Time Industries Association.”

Another aim of the association will always be strategies and campaigns to help those who do operate in the night-time economy and that’s one of the factors that drove Check.Check.Check. This is a campaign that encourages the public to adopt some element of personal responsibility to make sure they enjoy a night out in a COVID-safe manner.

“Check.Check.Check was really born out of seeing a COVID cluster being tied to a Sydney venue. The minute that occurred, along with images of people congregating on footpaths, the Check.Check.Check campaign was designed to reach an audience that the government was not doing a great job of reaching. And I think if industry is seen to be proactive and doing the right things and working to get the right outcomes it empowers those in government who share that view to have discussion.

“The campaign creative included the NSW Services app, because it shows you signalling to government that we are doing whatever we can do to get venues registered, get punters behaving and having seen the second lock down in Victoria we knew there was no room for faltering on the way out of this.”

So in a year of challenges and triumphs, what is Mike most proud of from 2020?

“Personally I’m proud of the managing the Time Out business through the pandemic, in terms of not making redundancies and keeping, just keeping it intact. It’s bloody hard in publishing, so we’ve hung on to the team and everyone’s everyone’s work well, in the context.

“If lockout was a threat to Time Out, lockdown is the absolute killer. So it’s the right year for us to shine when it comes to defending and advocating for and enabling going out and to be recognised, not with the awards but by the community by playing an important part of that story. I think that we’ve done a good job there.

“And I don’t know how the NTIA has somehow managed to grow in membership and financial position in pandemic but obviously, that is some level of testament to being seen to be an effective organisation and part of the story. And that’s something that’s really important.”

As part of looking to the future and embracing a wider strategy for the night-time economy, the NTIA has unveiled a new board with five new members joining three other senior leaders from across the night-time sector.

Figures joining the board are Lisa Havilah, Chief Executive, Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences; Greg Holland, CEO, Spirits & Cocktails Australia; Emily Collins, Managing Director, Music NSW, Kylie Moncur, Chief Marketing Officer, Australian Venue Co. and Justine Baker, CEO, Solotel Group, co-founder of the NTIA who rejoins the board.

They complement existing board members, Rennie Addabbo, Managing Director Sonos Asia Growth Markets; Kenny Graham, founder and owner, Mary’s Group. The NTIA will continue to be chaired by Mike.

Commenting on the changes, Mike said: “As the NTIA enters just its third year of operations, it is fantastic to unveil an expanded board of industry heavyweights from across the sector. They will bring huge amounts of expertise and influence to the Association.

“Although 2020 was an incredibly difficult year for the night-time economy, the NTIA continued to grow as an organisation, with new members joining, and public campaigns aimed at sector recovery. The latest of these Check.Check.Check accompanied Victoria’s successful reopening, after its initial phase was well received by consumers, industry and government in NSW.

“We look towards 2021 with a renewed sense of purpose and will be at the heart of reviving nightlife across Australia following the pandemic.”

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