Coronavirus and Meetings
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The impact of the coronavirus outbreak is being felt worldwide, with Spain and France joining Italy in shutting down all nonessential businesses, Canada shutting down Parliament and nonessential travel and the United States declaring a national emergency this weekend. The events industry has been essentially grounded as governments begin banning large gatherings in an effort to contain the virus. Most recently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended all events with 50 people or more be postponed or cancelled for the next eight weeks.
During this uncertain time, event professionals are turning to each another for support and guidance. Delegate Wranglers, a Facebook group with 18,610 members in its original UK/Europe page and 1,606 members in its recently launched U.S. and Canada page, has become a popular place for planners to turn.
Neil Thompson, founder of Delegate Wranglers and an event manager with more than 20 years of experience, shared his perspective on COVID-19, the future of meetings and the role of Delegate Wranglers in helping planners persist.
What are your thoughts on the coronavirus outbreak and the response from the events industry?
It is a really difficult situation for everyone globally and one that is, quite correctly, being taken extremely seriously –- especially by those involved with the events industry. The industry is really struggling at the moment and the impact right now feels immense, but I do feel that it is important to listen to the facts from the World Health Organization and the government before making any panic decisions and cancelling events too soon. Hopefully, the majority of events that don’t go ahead as originally planned in the next few weeks will be postponed rather than fully cancelled.
How have the Delegate Wranglers members been responding?
Although Delegate Wranglers is not actually an open discussion forum, the platform has become a place to share information and best practices on this subject for the members.
To facilitate this, we started a dedicated COVID-19 post last week, which is pinned to the top of the group overnight from 5 p.m. to 8 a.m. each day and for the full weekend. This allows members to post links to news stories, blogs and press releases which wouldn't normally be allowed on our main timeline.
The reason behind having one post pinned to the top of the group is so that all COVID-19 information is collated centrally, and members can check it at any time for new information. We need members to recognize the importance of using this dedicated thread so that we can endeavor to keep business opportunities running as normal on the main timeline to help everyone. We are trying to keep driving business, not lose it. Enough business is being lost in the current climate, so every opportunity presented on the group, leads for business, and jobs are key.
It is important to keep the industry moving right now and we are trying to play our part in that. Many projects have long lead times, so it is vital that the industry keeps on rolling during this tough time.
Have you seen a difference between how members of the U.K./Europe and the U.S./Canada groups are responding?
There is definitely more information shared and more members reaching out for assistance on the U.K. and Europe group due to the larger number of members, but there are common factors across both groups, such as using livestreaming, videoconferencing and webcasting solutions where appropriate. The biggest concerns raised on both groups are regarding cancellation fees and insurance.
What is your advice to planners during this uncertain time?
The best advice we can give to planners is to be proactive and pay close attention to the WHO and government websites for rolling updates. Communication is key; make sure you and your clients are dealing with facts and not speculation before making any decisions about cancelling events, especially those that are later in the year. Obviously, public safety is the number-one priority and it should remain so at all times.
In the meantime, we do recommend that people go ahead with their working lives as much as possible and keep things moving. Plan for the event going ahead until you’re told otherwise, while carefully implementing a strategic back-up plan. If you have numerous events being cancelled, one idea might be to use any spare time to upskill and research new venues, suppliers, etc.
We are trying to assist all sectors of the industry on a number of fronts:
- We have doubled all of our regular "Supplier and Freelancer Hours" on the group page so that suppliers and freelancers have greater opportunities to promote themselves and their products/services and also promote or communicate up-to-date event information.
- One sector of the industry that is suffering from all the cancellations is the event agency side, so we have created a new feature this week called "Special Agents" to help increase their profile in the group. This is a quick, written interview with an event agent so we can get to know them a little better and give them an opportunity to tell us why they are so great at what they do.
How long do you think it will take for the industry to get back to normal once the virus is contained? Are there any lessons we can learn from this?
It is actually quite difficult to call at the moment. I’ve been in the industry for 22 years but have never experienced anything like this during my career, so this is new territory for us all.
In my opinion, it’s a matter of staying positive, being pragmatic and getting the job done. That’s what we’re all about in this industry. Let’s not mope around but try and dig in, support each other and fight hard to be ready for when that reset button is pressed and we can power through again.