Nfld. & Labrador

Annual St. John's oil and gas conference, Noia's biggest money-maker, cancelled

For the first time since the 1980s, there will not be an annual oil and gas conference and exhibition in St. John's.

Collapse in trade shows and concerts wipes out revenue for St. John's audio-visual company

Brad Hollett, left, and Andy Jordan manage and operate Canadian AV Inc. in St. John's. The global pandemic, they say, has wiped out 100 per cent of their audio-visual business because they depend on events like trade shows, concerts and special events. (Canadian AV Inc.)

In another sign of the struggles facing Newfoundland and Labrador's oil and gas sector, an advocacy group for the industry has confirmed its annual conference and exhibition show will not go ahead this year.

It's also another devastating blow for the small businesses that depend on such trade shows for crucial contracts.

"Right now we've lost 100 per cent of our business," said Brad Hollett, a manager with Canadian AV Inc., the St. John's company that had the contract to provide audio-visual services for the four-day conference.

"Our whole business is 100 per cent based on people being together, and right now that's not going to happen," added Hollett's business partner, Andy Jordan.

First interruption since the 1980s

The Newfoundland and Labrador Oil & Gas Industries Association, better known as Noia, has cancelled the long-running conference because of the health and financial effects of the global COVID-19 pandemic.

Insiders say it's the first time since the mid-1980s the trade show, considered the highlight of the year for many in the oil business, will not be held.

It's one of the biggest trade shows in the province, attracting between 800 and 1,000 delegates each year to the capital city, and allows oil giants like ExxonMobil Canada and Equinor an opportunity to update the supply and service sector on their operations.

Its cancellation is a poignant reminder of the crisis in the oil sector, with big layoffs and sharp spending reductions casting a dark cloud over an industry that represents roughly one-third of the provincial economy.

Premier Dwight Ball speaks to reporters after delivering a keynote address to the Noia conference in St. John's in 2019. (Adam Walsh/CBC)

It also represents a million dollars in lost revenues for Noia, along with some big profits.

For companies like Canadian AV Inc., it's just the latest big contract to evaporate as major concerts and trade shows — their bread and butter — are systematically cancelled.

The Noia contract, said Hollett, represents roughly five per cent of the company's annual revenues.

Hollett described the collapse in business as "depressing and defeating." The company typically employs 20 technicians at peak times, but right now the company has no work on the horizon.

Hollett and Jordan are not ready to accept defeat. They say they're grateful for emergency funding from the federal government, which is helping them stay afloat, and believe they can weather the storm and be ready when concerts and trade shows are once again being held.

"We have our fingers crossed that the business is going to come back. We have to drop anchor and ride out the storm," said Jordan.

Noia planning for next year

Meanwhile, Noia officials were busy this week notifying presenters and speakers of the cancellation, signalling another blow to a hospitality industry that is reeling from a collapse in business because of strict travel and physical distancing measures, some of which are slowly being relaxed.

The conference was originally scheduled for June 1-4 at the St. John's Convention Centre, but those plans were derailed by the onslaught of the pandemic in March.

Noia had hoped to stage the conference Sept. 9-11, but those plans have also been sacked.

In a statement, the association thanked its volunteers, sponsors and speakers, and said it is exploring ways to stage a virtual conference for Noia members later this year.

But this is a big setback for the organization and its 500-plus membership, which has been shedding jobs and, in some cases, closing their doors.

Lobbying federal government

Noia has also been waging a high-profile campaign in recent months to convince the federal government to help rescue an industry that is being battered by a sharp drop in oil prices, and an over-supply of inventories because of a collapse in the demand for transportation fuels.

No one from Noia was available for an interview Wednesday, but a spokesperson said plans are already underway for the 2021 conference.

"Noia will continue its advocacy work to ensure the offshore industry can survive the current economic circumstances," the spokesperson said.

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