Should You Change Your Event Due to Coronavirus?

A veteran planner offers advice for deciding whether to move ahead while coronavirus sparks fears.

Should You Change Your Event Due to Coronavirus?

Coronavirus. This is the word on everyone's mind and the events industry is no different. It seems a new conference or major event is being cancelled or changed to digital format, nearly every day. 

Stores are selling out on basic supplies and Amazon has even warned that shipments may be delayed if any of the products (or their retailer's supply chains) are coming from China. 

On the flip side, there are still plenty of events actually happening as planned.

  • The American Academy of Dermatology will meet in Denver March 20-22. 
  • Catersource and The Special Event are sticking to their schedule next week for a collocated event in Las Vegas.
  • Formulation and Drug Delivery Congress will also go ahead next week in San Diego.

And then there are the Googles of the world that are changing its annual conferences to a fully digital format. 

It seems as though everyone is all over the place about what to do and when to do it. So should you cancel your event? Should you cancel your attendance at someone else's conference? 

Here are my thoughts based on reading a spread of reliable new sources and more than 15 years in the industry:

1. Don't let Google changing its format to digital make you run for the internet hills on your own event. This is not necessarily COVID-19 related. It could be its way of testing the waters on a new event format. If it works, they save a tone of money in its budget next year. If it doesn't, Google can chalk it up to a side-effect of the virus (no pun intended) and go back to business, as usual, the next year. 

2. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does not have a coronavirus related travel health notice in effect for the U.S. 

3. The Meetings Mean Business Coalition encourages events to continue as normal.  

4. COVID-19 is a virus. The flu is also a virus. The spread of both can be reduced by following basic guidelines for washing hands regularly, covering your cough/sneeze and avoiding hand/eye/mouth contact. 

There are a lot of pros and cons to be weighed here about whether you should move forward with your event. No case is cut and dry. However, I do want to strongly caution anyone from cancelling out of fear. 

Instead: 

  • Review where your attendees are traveling from. 
  • Pay attention to the CDC’s official releases and other notices from government and health organizations. 
  • Evaluate the financial implications of cancelling vs. postponing vs. moving forward. Most insurance companies will not cover a claim related to coronavirus. A virus does not qualify under the “acts of God” clause in many event insurance plans. 
  • Provide proper signage about how to reduce the spread of viruses, and really all germs in general. 
  • Overly communicate with your attendees about what your plan is for the event itself, and that you are looking at all the angles (spell out what those angles are) so they are put at ease. Peace of mind will be key to a successful event anyways. A mind focused on coronavirus is not focused on your content, which is why you are hosting the event, to begin with.