Community and convention centres are looking forward to revive the sector by offering big discounts and waiving fees
The Spectra Convention Centre in Dhaka's Gulshan area reopened for business this September after a five-month shutdown amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
Though the centre covers both social and corporate events, bookings are yet to get any momentum since they resumed their operations.
As the pandemic has put almost all national and international conferences on hold, community and convention centres such as the Spectra have pinned all their hopes of reviving the business in the upcoming wedding season.
Just as the Spectra, around 95% of the community and convention centres have reopened all over the country, said Md Zakir Hossain, president of Bangladesh Community, Convention and Catering Services Association.
"However, the average business of these centres currently stands at not more than 25% compared to the same period last year," he told The Business Standard.
The Spectra Convention Centre – looking forward to a lively wedding season and planning to capitalise on it – has offered a waiver on fees to lure in the guests.
Providing more details, the centre's Administrative Officer Arif Shikder said, "We used to get a lot of business from December to mid-January. During this period, we usually get around 50-70 weddings per month.
"But now, customer response is very poor – we have had only nine events since reopening the centre. The number of guests ranged between 50-80 people per programme to ensure social distancing measures.
"We currently do not have any bookings in advance," said Arif.
He further said the centre is now fully waiving the convention hall fee of Tk1 lakh except the price of the food to attract guests.
"The centre has suffered losses of around Tk1 crore due to the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic. We have never faced such a situation of continuous shutdown since starting our journey in 2003. We have already furloughed 40 of our 80 staff members amid the crisis," said the administrative officer.
According to the association of community and convention centres, there are around 5,000 community and convention centres across the country – more than 200 of them in Dhaka city alone.
Although the privately-operated community centres have reopened, most of the centres owned by the city corporations and municipalities are still closed, the association said.
The country's multi-purpose convention facility, Bangabandhu International Conference Center (BICC), has been operating under the state-owned company Bangladesh Services Ltd. The centre reopened last month and offered 50% discount for wedding programmes.
"The number of bookings is very low nowadays. To compete with others, we are thinking of offering a discount for other programmes such as conferences and workshops, too. Many other venues have already announced discounts," said Md Abdul Quaiyum, managing director of the Bangladesh Services Ltd.
The RAOWA Club of Mohakhali is another popular venue for wedding functions.
Md Rokon, booking in-charge of the club, said last week, "We have hosted three weddings since reopening the club in September. But we are getting a good response from our guests for the coming days."
Bangladesh Community, Convention and Catering Services Association's President Md Zakir Hossain said, "Although winter is our peak season for business, people are concerned about the spread of the novel coronavirus in the upcoming season.
"The government and other stakeholders should raise awareness about the fact that maintaining social distancing measures while holding events can minimise the risk of spreading Covid-19."
He also mentioned that the sector has suffered turnover losses of around Tk2,000 crore till July this year due to the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic.
"The different sub-sectors which are related to our centre, such as catering, decorating, photography, event management, and so on, have been equally affected by the pandemic. We have to wait for one to one and half years to recover from the losses."
Zakir – who owns the Prianka Community Centre in Dhanmondi – spoke about the situation of his business, "We suffered losses reaching around Tk50 lakh amid the pandemic. We are facing difficulties in paying salaries to the existing employees, as well as in paying common utility bills."
Prito Reza, founder and chief photographer of the Wedding Diary, said, "In winter, we cover a minimum of 400-500 wedding functions per month. But presently, we are still not getting enough offers as large scale functions are yet to begin."
He added that hundreds of photographers are involved in this sector, and his firm employs 35 photographers.
Mehdi Hasan Mishu, chief executive of the Wedding Planner – an event management firm, said, "I mainly deal with the decoration of wedding. I did not get any orders after different community and convention centres that reopened since last August."
He further said that most of the functions are operating in a limited scale, and even many restaurants are currently being used as venues for wedding programmes instead of convention centres.
The Dhaka South and North city corporations own 23 and eight community centres respectively, which are used by city dwellers for holding weeding programmes and other social events.
Though the wedding season is knocking at the door, these community centres remain closed since March this year.
Middle and lower-middle class people of the city, who rely on the government-owned community centres for holding social events, are reaching out to the authorities concerned every day to inquire about any possible date for reopening, officials of the both city corporations said.
But the officials are yet to announce a positive decision in this regard.
Akand Mohammad Faisal Uddin, social welfare officer at the Dhaka South City Corporation, said, "We are still discouraging public gatherings. This is why the community centres did not open. If we get permission from higher authorities, we will reopen those centres as soon as possible."