Sydney Royal 2021 has exceeded all expectations in spite of the looming threat of another Covid-19 lockdown to record 800,000 attendees over 12 days, or only 110,000 less than 2019 - the last year the event was held.
Capacity caps set by NSW Health of no more than 60,000 paid ticket holders each day - plus the 10,000 staff, volunteers and exhibitors - meant the public had to book ahead of time and nominate a day in order to come to the show.
Royal Agricultural Society of NSW chief executive Brock Gilmour said what appeared to be draconian measures actually worked in the show's favour.
"It had the result of flattening out crowd numbers and making it a pleasant show experience," he said. "We sold out on eight out of ten days and for the last weekend NSW Health lifted our cap by another 10,000 people. Customers had no trouble booking a ticket for another day and our commercial partners reported a 40 per cent increase in how much each person spent.
"We believe that extra spend came came from the fact that flattening peak crowd numbers led to a more comfortable experience - that and a general trend in the wake of Covid for a desire to attend a live event."
A lot of learnings from this year's event will go towards the great bicentenial celebrations in 2022, like the clever crowd monitoring software provided by Sydney based PMY Group that provided users with an idea of how busy pavilions were, giving attendees the heads up that somewhere else might be more comfortable. That software, which took into account capacity limits and safe distancing requirements, along with the crowd flattening ticketing initiative will likely remain near place during next year's show. That same software was used at the US Open, The Australian Open and will be used at the Tokyo Olympics.
Of course this all comes at a cost with $1.5 million spent on a Covid safe plan, including $500,000 on social distancing marshals and nearly $400,000 on hand sanitiser.
Meanwhile NSW treasury gave its guarantee that if the show was affected by a Covid lockdown it would help cover substantial costs.
"That gave us confidence," said Mr Gilmour. "Without NSW support we couldn't have gone ahead with the show. The logistics were huge. We made the decision to proceed in early December which gave us only four months to prepare. We worked with NSW Health on our Covid safe plan weekly and then daily as the show date came closer."
While livestock exhibitor numbers were down by half the opportunity for rural residents to mix and mingle with long lost friends proved invaluable.
RAS councillor Alastair Rayner the importance to the mental health of show goers could not be underestimated.
"The ability to interact at a professional and personal level is huge," he said. "That is so essential for rural people who have been caught up with drought then fires now floods and of course Covid-19. It has been really important to come to this show and be proud of what we do in agriculture. There are so many mental aspects to this event that you can't put a value on it."
Dairy competition commentator and Semex representative David Ninness said the friendships made at prior shows were more important than ever after the isolation imposed by the pandemic - and lately the floods on the Mid North Coast.
"It was hard for a lot of people last year," he said. "Some farms were not keen on having visitors at all."
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