Two weeks ago, more than eighty companies operating in the events sector in the country decided to set up an Association of the Events Industry and addressed the Government with proposals on how to save the jobs of more than 13,000 workers in the events industry. Due to the restrictions imposed by the Government in the country in relation to the COVID-19 virus, the activities of most of the members of the association have been completely suspended.
When I asked for an important clarification from the State Consumer Rights Protection Authority in this very difficult period for everyone, the reply I received was surprising - the letter only contained legal formalities that contradicted each other, without any response to the suggestions made by the Event Industry Association on how to find solutions to protect the interests of both consumers and the event industry.
"The members of the Event Industry Association, including DOMINO Theatre, Žalgiris Organisation, Siemens Arena, ELITAZ Creative House, TIKETA, together with a large number - 51 organisations in total - are the main players in the cultural, entertainment, leisure and sports events industry (concerts, organisers of children's events, music festivals, public and private theatres, ticket distributors, arenas) - we asked the VVTAT for clarification on how the issue of ticket refunds should be handled in cases of cancellation or relocation. We have to admit that we received a superficial, abstract and overly formal reply, which shows a reluctance to look into the real situation or to assume responsibility. By failing to analyse the situation in the Republic of Lithuania and to take into account the practice of other countries, but only by giving abstract instructions, the SCMA clearly shows its intention to turn a blind eye and not to analyse force majeure legal regulation in Lithuania, but only to formally fulfil its obligation to protect exclusively the interest of the supposedly weaker party. For this reason, we have decided to appeal to the Government - we ask for the political will to adopt solutions that are proportionate to both sides in terms of refunding money for tickets purchased for events that were not held during the quarantine period and which were banned by the Government", - comments Gediminas Jaunius, Chairman of the Board of the Event Industry Association and Head of the creative house ELITAZ, on the situation.
Diana Bukantaitė - Kutkevičienė, Board Member of the Event Industry Association, Head of DOMINO Theatre, points to the practice of other countries. According to the board member, there are many examples of how countries help the events sector.
"Sometimes it is not necessary to reinvent the wheel - it would be enough for Lithuania, as a member of the European Union, to take an interest in how other Member States are dealing with similar problems and to adopt good practices. The Latvian Ministry of Culture clarified last month that in the event of force majeure, event organisers and ticket distributors remain obliged to fulfil their obligations, but if there is a possibility of fulfilling them in the future, ticket purchasers are not entitled to a refund or a refund for their tickets. Examples can be found in every country, in every field, whether it is tax breaks, timely political decisions, subsidies or compensation for losses. The most important thing is to talk and assess the situation adequately, because today it is no longer clear whether the consumer is the weaker party, or the events market with all its companies and employees, whose jobs we want to keep", says Diana Bukantaitė - Kutkevičienė.
"Andrius Žiauberis, Director of TIKETA and member of the Association's Board, is convinced that the biggest benefit for the events industry would be the reduction of VAT.
"Reducing VAT on the organiser's income would be essential for survival. It is this decision that would make the industry really breathe easier," said Žiauberis.
Mantas Vedrickas, representing Žalgiris Arena and member of the Association's Board of Directors, also agrees on the necessity of state aid for the events sector: "We see a great example where the European Commission has already approved such a measure on 12-03-2020 at the request of Denmark and the Danish Government has allocated EUR 12 million to the Danish events sector. We would like to see our Government to apply to the European Commission as soon as possible to approve a scheme to compensate Lithuanian businesses operating in the events sector for losses caused by the cancellation of events due to COVID-19."
1 April 2020 The Cabinet approved amendments to the Civil Code of the Republic of Lithuania and the Law on Tourism, which will allow tour operators who have experienced difficulties due to the COVID-19 situation to offer tourists an alternative - a voucher worth at least the amount of money paid for the failed trip.
"It is precisely this type of government decision that is needed in the COVID-19 situation - where solutions are found that are necessary in this period of economic crisis, in order not to infringe the rights of consumers and to safeguard the interests of the other party - in our case, the events sector. I do not want to believe that the events sector will be discriminated against and that the needs of the tourism sector will be better taken into account," says Gediminas Jaunius.
Yesterday, the members of the Event Industry Association wrote to the Government, the Ministry of Economy and Innovation and the Ministry of Justice, and this time they hope to receive a political decision that reflects the interests of all the parties concerned.