The Events Industry Council (EIC) held a webinar to discuss the industry’s reaction to the coronavirus, which took place on 7 February.
The seminar was titled ‘Industry Discussion on Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV): Identifying Reliable Sources and Factors for Informed Decision-Making’ and was facilitated by Mark Cooper, CEO of International Association of Conference Centres (IACC).
EIC’s webinar featured the perspectives of Aloysius Arlando, president of Singapore Association of Convention and Exhibition Organisers and Suppliers (SACEOS), David DuBois, CMP, CAE, FASAE, CTA, president and CEO of International Association of Exhibitions and Events (IAEE), Alisa Peters, CMP, CMM, senior national account manager, ESN, for Experient and Kristin Mirabal, director, global events, Association of Certified Anti-Money Laundering Specialists (ACAMS).
The conversation was focused on how, in a time of uncertainty about the coronavirus, organisers should approach decisions about whether or not to postpone or cancel an event. It also highlighted the need to keep participants’ health and well-being as a priority and also not forgetting “the pain your industry partners are going through” Cooper said.
Some highlights included:
You can’t be held hostage by fear in your decision-making process, everyone agreed. “Be wary of sensationalism. Our audience is turning to us to be the guiding light” Cooper said.
Peters emphasised that, particularly in the U.S., the flu represents a greater health threat than contracting the coronavirus. That means that it’s prudent for event organisers to do everything they can to minimise the spread of germs, making sure that hand sanitizers are available and working with venues to step up sanitation efforts.
Mirabal shared that everyone needs to be “more diligent” because we are in the business of bringing many people together. She is currently in Washington, D.C., for an ACAMS event and has made sure that hand sanitizers are more plentiful at the venue than in the past.
Hold off on making a decision
If possible, Cooper advised to wait another ten days or two weeks before deciding whether to postpone or cancel your event (unless, of course, it is planned to take place in China in the very near term).
This is the riskiest time to make such a decision, he said, and he expects that within the next few weeks “we will have a much clearer picture” about whether the virus has been contained and will be able to make a “more informed decision.”
DuBois shared that it took four months for the SARS scare in 2003 to stabilize. “We’re only about one month into the coronavirus” he said. “Fingers crossed, within the next ten days, it will be more under control.”
Rely on local sources for facts rather than depending on the media
Mirabal is monitoring the situation in Hong Kong, where an ACAMS APAC event is planned for the end of April. As of now, all events in Hong Kong are cancelled for February, but Mirabal has not yet cancelled or postponed the event and is relying on local partners on the ground in Hong Kong to advise her.
“There’s a lot of misinformation out there” she said. She is acting “based on fact and keeping the well-being of her attendees in mind.” The impact of cancelling “is something we don’t take lightly, but we have to ensure that we are acting responsibly.” She expects that they will make a decision by the end of February for this particular event.
Be aware that this is a rapidly changing situation
In Singapore, Arlando shared, the Minister of Health had just raised the response level to the coronavirus outbreak from Code Yellow to Code Orange within hours of his joining the call. The government is encouraging large events in Singapore to be postponed.
Over communicate with your audience
If there is any question about whether your event will be held, make your website your “central repository” for information, Peters said, so that attendees are able to log on at any time for updates. She also recommended that event organizers “stay dialled into social media — you will have chatter.”
The industry must come together and be flexible
The biggest challenge, DuBois said, is how do you take a big event that you have postponed and find availability over the next six months? You have to be flexible to take the event elsewhere, he said. Suppliers must also be flexible, this means “no cancellation fees”.
Arlando said that “we will need to work hard to come up with solutions for the safety and well-being of everyone.” He pointed out that if a number of events are postponed in the first half of the year, there will be a “bunching up of events” and potentially an inventory issue later in the year.
Don’t underestimate the toll of the outbreak but stay positive
Mirabal said that it’s important to be aware of where your attendees are coming from. “This is a global event impacting events worldwide” she said.