Within the past few weeks, the COVID-19 Coronavirus has disrupted the global stock market and shaken businesses across the world. Many companies have shut down their offices and are asking employees to self-quarantine to prevent the further spread of the virus. On top of this, many state and federal governments are advising against large gatherings. The Swiss Government even placed a temporary ban on all events, conferences, and gatherings of 1,000 people or more. The entire country of Italy is on lockdown, and the United States just announced a 30-day travel ban from Europe.
Because of these quarantines, public health concerns around large gatherings, and growing travel restrictions, many companies in the meeting and event industry have been scrambling. Do planners cancel their events? What other options do we have?
Essentially, as the coronavirus pandemic grows, here are the four options planners have in terms of what to do next. No matter what you decide, we hope you gain some helpful tips and do what you can to keep you and your attendee safe as in industry navigates this difficult time.
Option 1: Go On With the Show (With Some Changes)
Editor's Note: This blog post was written prior to several restrictions being enacted around the world that make having in-person events take place very unlikely. Please follow your local and federal guidelines when it comes to hosting large groups of people in one place.
Canceling or making big changes to your event is a huge undertaking, but even under current circumstances, it may not be totally necessary for you and your audience depending on your size and location. If you do decide to hold your event in the coming weeks, there are some adjustments you'll need to make in order to be successful and keep your attendees safe.
The World Health Organization's Guide
The World Health Organization (WHO) has released a guide specifically for events concerning the virus that planners should download and review.
According to Associations Now, some of these tips include:
- Establish contact with local and national public health authorities as they relate to your event.
- Provide attendees with information on proper hand hygiene and coughing etiquette and how to access local healthcare if they need it.
- Have a plan if attendees exhibit symptoms consistent with the virus during the event, including how they will be transported to a treatment facility.
- Consider providing isolation facilities at the venue for participants who develop symptoms and must wait for a health assessment.
The guide also asks planners of large events to think about crowd density and venue layout, the number of participants coming from countries or areas affected by the COVID-19 outbreak within 14 days of their event, and the age of attendees (since the elderly seem to be more affected ) when it comes to making critical safety decisions.
Other Tips From Planners
Especially when it comes to pre-event and onsite communication and logistics, planners should also do what they do best when there's a problem: get creative. Here's what we mean:
- Purchase extra supplies: First things first, make your event more safe and your attendees more comfortable by purchasing extra hand sanitizer and placing them at popular touch points throughout your event. Also consider getting extra wipes, tissues, gloves, etc.
- Utilize your mobile event app: Mobile event apps today have features like push notifications that help you alert attendees of any important news, event program changes, reminders and more. Have a mobile game plan in place to keep communication consistent throughout your event.
- Create extra signage: People are still adjusting to coronavirus best practices such as throughly and frequently washing hands, not touching their face, etc. Post lots of extra signage throughout your event in high trafficked areas, tables and bathrooms. Make it light hearted and fun and include your event branding (check out a great example here).
- Enact "no handshake" policies: The handshake is a quintessential part of networking and meeting, but the CDC and other health organizations are advising against physical contact during the outbreak. Whether it's the elbow bump, peace sign or something else, this can be a key policy to enact to keep safe.
- Have fun with swag: BizBash just shared these great ideas to send coronavirus care packages and swag to attendees from canceled events, but you can certainly take inspiration for your event if it's still on. Consider passing out branded hand sanitizer, tissues or creating special packages for VIP guests.
Option 2: Consider Taking Your In-Person Event Online
If you don't want to risk having your in-person event take place, all hope is not lost. By taking your event or conference online, you can recoup at least some of your hard work and money by hosting your events virtually. Some major events such as Salesforce's World Tour Sydney Reimagined and Adobe's annual live summit have announced a move to online in the wake of the outbreak.
While somewhat simple in theory, there are some things planners should be aware of if they go the virtual route.
1. Communication is Key
Especially if you're transitioning your in-person event to a virtual one, the number one thing you can do for it to be successful is to communicate, communicate, communicate. If you make this big change, tell your attendees, speakers, exhibitors and other stakeholders the reasons why, address their concerns and use email marketing, social media and other tactics to maintain excitement despite the format change.
2. Go Over Logistics
Per MeetingsNet, there are some key items to cross off your list if you're switching your in-person event to a virtual one. This includes researching virtual event companies as soon as you realize your meeting or event is threatened, talking to your speakers and educators and double checking their contracts to ensure they can/are willing to participate in a change of event format, and reaching out to key exhibitors to put together a virtual exhibition floor.
3. Be Prepared
This is a good tip for any meeting or event, virtual or not, but it's a top one nonetheless. Consider creating an agenda or talking points for your virtual meeting and send it out beforehand (or include it in the calendar invite). If it's a new meeting platform you're using, test it out for any connectivity issues. Be considerate of attendees' different time zones. It's the little things, but by taking these extra steps, people will be more prepared.
4. Create Engaging Presentations
When switching to a virtual meeting, encourage your speakers to spruce up their presentations to make them more interactive. It's easy to add animations and graphics, or you can take it a step further by incorporating video or something like Prezi to keep people engaged and focused throughout a presentation. If they're comfortable on camera, have your speakers turn their webcams on to connect better with your audience.
5. Utilize Interactive Features
No matter what platform you use to broadcast your virtual event, make sure you research and utilize all the features that come with it that can help keep people engaged. Tools such as chat boxes, Q&A, screen sharing, polls, annotation, and more are popular. Bonus if it also includes tracks participation data to see how effective it is for your team or attendees.
6. Use Your Mobile App
Even if you have remote attendees participating, a mobile app can allow them to continue to engage with polling, attendee messaging and push notifications. They will feel like they are truly a part of the live experience.
Option 3: Postpone Your Event
Instead of canceling their events, many event planners have postponed their events for the summer or fall, hoping the warmer weather will kill the spread of the virus or that by then, the virus will be more under control (e.g. vaccines). Postponing your event allows planners to continue to sell tickets and build hype around the event, and thus is less costly than outright canceling your event.
Many noteworthy corporate meetings, conferences, sporting events, and festivals have chosen to postpone their events instead of canceling. Here are a few of the most popular:
- Facebook F8
- EmTech Asia
- ASEAN Summit
- Game Developers Conference
- Formula One’s Chinese Grand Prix
- World Athletics Indoor Championships
- Tokyo’s Cherry Blossom Festival
Things to Keep in Mind if You Postpone
- You may have difficulty keeping the same venue or preferred dates. Be flexible!
- You will likely see a drop in attendance. Adjust your other budgets and spending areas, such as your F&B costs, as needed, and consider offering a voucher or discount so that attendees can make it next year.
- You may still not avoid the outbreak. While many are hoping the warmer months will slow down or kill the outbreak, that's not guaranteed. You may just be buying time before the inevitable.
Option 4: Cancel Your Event
If you’re considering canceling your meeting or event because of the Coronavirus, it’s important to understand all the costs and to check your attrition clauses located in the contract with your venue. Some of the most important questions to ask yourself are: Will your event losses be covered under your event cancellation insurance policy? What steps do you have to take to ensure the maximum insurance recovery for canceling your event?
Before we can answer these questions, we need to dive deeper into what event cancellation insurance is.
What is Event Cancellation Insurance?
The cost of canceling a large event (not counting lost revenue) can total millions of dollars or more. Event cancellation insurance is insurance that protects event expenses and revenues against the risk of unforeseen circumstances beyond the planner’s control and generally includes, cancellation, relocation, postponement, or abandonment. Some insurance policies are written to include only specifics risks like terrorism, extreme weather, etc., while other policies are more general and offer broader “all-cause” and “all-risk” coverage.
Under a general event cancellation policy, if triggered, planners can expect two types of major costs to be covered
- Cancellation expenses. These expenses are costs that are related to the cancellation, rescheduling, or relocation of your event.
- Loss of revenue. This expense is calculated by the amount of money a company would have generated if their event proceeded normally.
So… Is the Coronavirus Covered Under Event Cancelation Policies?
This is the big question. Although there are different types of event cancellation policies, with an “all-cause,” “all-risk” policy, canceling your event because of the coronavirus should be covered as an “unforeseen communicable disease outbreak,” unless it states so otherwise.
If you’re planning a meeting or event for later in the year, be sure to purchase an event cancellation that covers cancelation for the COVID-19 coronavirus or related diseases.
5 Tips for Canceling Your Event
- Provide ample notice to your insurer that you’re canceling your event.
- Collect and record all evidence of your company’s event losses and damages to ensure full event cancellation coverage.
- Be careful about how you categorize what “caused” your losses in internal and external communications.
- Communicate with your insurers about mitigation efforts.
- Hire experienced coverage counsel to ensure you maximize your insurance recovery.
We know this is a difficult time for our industry and more tough choices will be made over the next few weeks and months. Events affect so many more people than just the attendees, organizers and staff; the people who work at your venue, for your vendors, in the travel and hospitality industries, and even those in your event city are all impacted by the decisions you make about your event. Just remember to remain calm, communicate with your stakeholders and remember not all meetings and events are created equal. Take a breath, go with your gut, and remember that health and safety is at the heart of dealing with the coronavirus outbreak. If you keep that in mind, your future event decisions will be ones you feel good about at the end of the day.
Is the coronavirus affecting your meetings and events? For more information about coronavirus and events, check out our guide to navigating the outbreak.
Kaitlyn Tatulli also contributed to this post.