Last month was one that the event industry will remember for a while as a result of the Coronavirus outbreak and the ensuing media frenzy.
Understandably, lots of people are worrying, and others are experiencing déjà vu. We have seen this before with SARS, Bird Flu and H1N1. All of these health concerns received massive media attention which resulted in panic even though the number of people affected was low (generally speaking in comparison to the population).
In the past 5 years, the events industry has seen over a 25% increase in the number of live events hosted per year, and the recent Coronavirus outbreak is having a substantial effect on these events.
Large events are being canceled around the world, and attendees are concerned about traveling due to the fears and risks of the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19). First the Mobile World Congress, then Cisco, then Facebook. Is this wave of cancellations justified or is it just an overreaction?
To put things in perspective:
There are currently 328 million people in the USA and (as of today) 162 confirmed cases, resulting in 11 deaths. That means the odds of being diagnosed with the Coronavirus is 0.00005%. That means (according to the current metrics) that less than 1 out of 2 million people in America will get the virus.
When you compare this to the flu, you are 80x more likely to die from the flu than to even be diagnosed with the Coronavirus, meaning (at the time of writing this post) the flu is 1000x more deadly than the Coronavirus so far (according to the CDC that states on average 12,000 Americans die from the flu in any given year).
I am not dismissing the human impact and the Coronavirus is a valid concern, and we won’t know the true effects on the overall nature as everything is still unfolding. Though it is a fact that all of the uncertainty is creating an alarming amount of fear that is impacting the events industry in a big way.
All that being said, attendee safety is the number one priority. Making the decision to keep, postpone or cancel an event is a monumental decision that should not be taken lightly. When speaking with my clients I encourage them to accurately calculate the risks of their event happening versus the impact of canceling.
The decision should be based on facts and not fear.
Make sure that your facts are coming from a reputable source. In researching for this blog, I came across a lot of conflicting information, miscalculations and overall ignorance.
Some of the most important factors to considering when making your decision
What percentage of your attendees/exhibitors are from highly impacted areas?
Is the event being held in an impacted area?
What is the exposure to liability for health and safety?
What is the size of the program?
What are the travel routes of your attendees?
Regardless of the decision, it is important to be prepared.
Make sure that you have a crisis communication plan in place
Create a Coronavirus Risk Management Plan
Prepare for attendees to have concerns, and provide them with resources updated in real-time from reliable sources about travel precautions.
When negotiating contracts for future events pay close attention to the language in the Impossibility Clause/ Force Majeure Clause and ensure it includes language around “disease or epidemic”
Keep a level head – Just like a virus, panic spreads. Stay informed, deal in facts and consult experts in your decision making.
Several organizations have published helpful resources.
The Center for Disease Control’s (CDC): Recommendations for traveling
World Health Organization (WHO): Planning recommendations for large events