What a month it’s been in Melbourne. After more than 250 days, lockdown has officially come to an end. The world’s most ‘locked down’ city is coming alive.

With now more than 80% of people aged 16+ having been fully vaccinated again COVID-19, the lights are now green, the gates are open, and we are off and racing just in time for the crown jewel in Melbourne’s social scene … the Spring Racing Carnival.

Australia’s racing industry (with the support of Australia’s television industry) has arguably managed to navigate the challenges associated with the global pandemic better than most sporting codes. The show has gone on.

Racing Victoria CEO Giles Thompson and his team were quick with their decisions and kept finding new ways forward, fast. In fact, the Victorian racing industry has been able to keep racing through the pandemic with Thompson telling the ABC that, “we have been racing for 18 months through the pandemic and we’ve only lost a day and a half.”

They were also quick to mandate COVID-19 vaccines for their staff including trainers, jockeys, and race day officials. Announcing in mid-September, the vaccine mandate came into effect last month so everyone would be prepared for the possible return of crowds for the Spring Carnival. Clearly their clever planning paid off and Flemington was visited by 10,000 spectators to see the race that stops the nation.

While the industry did not escape COVID controversy, with Jamie Kah, perhaps Australia’s best jockey, and three other riders being banned from the Victorian Spring Racing Carnival over a COVID-19 protocol breach, on the whole Racing Victoria must be recognised as forward-thinking and quick-acting.

However, as we all know, the Spring Racing Carnival is about so much more than horses racing around a track.

It is the colour and life of Melbourne in the spring. A time when people get dressed up and head out with friends. Anyone who works on the Monday of ‘Cup Eve’ is looked upon with sympathetic eyes. It is THE long four-day weekend Melbournians wait out winter for!

Even those who head to the track may spend hours at Flemington without even seeing a horse. There is so much more to see and do than watch the horses.

It is the time of year that caterers and event planners make their killing. Those who have been long suffering through 18-months of lockdown are crying in delight that we are out just in time. While many have been able to pivot and offer race day hampers for home delivery through the year, nothing comes close to the real thing.

The issue for caterers and hospitality venues is now staffing. Job vacancy advertisements have risen by a staggering 200% in the past month and the number of applicants has never been lower due to long industry-wide shutdowns.

(The other issue has been lack of access to those international visa holders who travel and work during the peak summer months. Our beloved backpackers and international students who are currently unable to enter our shores without huge airline fares and long stays in quarantine. Thank goodness this is changing and soon!).

Congratulations to all those businesses that have weathered the storm (or rather tsunami) over the past 18-months and bravo to Racing Victoria for your resilience and quick actions.

You are the real winners in our book.

David Reddin, partner at Reddin Group, with his beloved dogs

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