Coronavirus ticket refund policy sparks outrage

Paul McCartney has deemed Italy’s refusal to give ticket goers refunds ‘outrageous’ as coronavirus continues to wreak havoc on the music industry.

Unless you’ve been in a coma for the last three months, you’ll have noticed how disruptive the coronavirus pandemic has been on normal life for nearly all of us since February.

Large events have been cancelled or indefinitely postponed across the globe for the foreseeable future, including music gigs, festivals, and club nights. The live entertainment industry has come to a complete stand still and for most of us, the only real silver lining has been that we’re at least saving a bit of extra money with all these refunded tickets.

At least that’s the case for everyone except those in Italy. The Italian government has issued a decree that means no concert tickets can be refunded, regardless of whether or not they ever took place. Instead, customers can receive compensatory vouchers for use at a later date. It’s a controversial move that’s been met with criticism from artists such as Paul McCartney, but it may be the only way to keep the lights on for venues while coronavirus keeps us tucked up at home.

Italy’s government issued this new refund policy with the recommendation of Assomusica, Italy’s association of organisers and producers for live music shows. Those who bought cancelled gig tickets will receive a voucher that can be used within 18 months – but you can’t get your money back entirely.

Assomusica has been involved in a number of support campaigns since the pandemic began, including requests for VAT suspensions, mortgage cancellations for venues, and tax exemptions while the industry recovers. Italy’s entertainment sector is facing huge financial struggle this year, with roughly £40 million lost in March alone.

It makes sense for Italy to take this approach, as it provides venues and gig companies with the revenue they would have received had the pandemic not forced us all indoors. This isn’t a sinister, greed-driven policy that gives big corporate entities another buck to add to their already huge fortunes, but rather a means of survival. Italy’s government probably doesn’t want an entire industry to collapse from under its feet and this voucher system may be the only way to keep things afloat.

The main problem with this is that customers aren’t given a choice, and it leaves artists feeling as if they’ve cheated supportive fans. Paul McCartney’s two cancelled shows in Naples and Lucca are an example. He took to Facebook to explain how he expected Italians to get a full refund and described it as ‘outrageous’ when he found out they didn’t. ‘Without the fans there would be no live entertainment’, Paul stated. ‘We strongly disagree with what the Italian government are doing’.

Those who purchased tickets to see Paul McCartney did so expecting to see the man in all his British glory on stage, probably sipping a beverage in the sun. To expect people to still pay that same amount of cash without getting anything in immediate return is unreasonable. The justification for why this policy exists is sound, but it still doesn’t make it fair, and leaves consumers being the ones who are ultimately punished for a situation outside of their control.

Other businesses in different sectors, such as independent coffee shops and clothing labels, have taken it upon themselves to ask the public for support. This can be done through online fundraisers, extra merchandise sales, or simple donations. There will be many out there who are happy to still pay full price for a gig they can’t go to – but it’s having that initial choice that matters. If I was an Italian that was refused my money back for a gig that doesn’t exist anymore, I’d be more than a little agitated.

Moving forward, industries will have to continue to think about how they can bring money in without the usual revenue streams. All live and big events are out of the question – obviously – so some creativity will be needed to keep customers inspired to spend and support. Some labels and acts are performing concerts through live streams or online multiplayer games such as Fortnite, but theatre shows and stadium concert acts will have a tough time continuing to navigate this storm as the year rolls on.

Some clubs are attempting social distancing nights, but social distancing measures could easily break down once you chuck young, drunk people together in a room and blast EDM at them. There isn’t really a fully fleshed out solution to keeping the live entertainment industry afloat, and it may come down to companies making individual efforts to raise cash from supportive consumers.

If you’re pissing Paul McCartney off, then your approach definitely needs rethinking.

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