Coronavirus and Meetings
to for Northstar Meetings Group’s comprehensive and continuing coverage of how the coronavirus is affecting meetings.
Updated March 24, 2020 at 5:30 p.m. EDT
The COVID-19 pandemic is hitting the U.S. economy remarkably hard. In a matter of days, hotel occupancy has plummeted, events have been called off en masse and layoffs have begun.
Industry leaders have sought bailouts for the airline, hotel and travel industries, but much of the discussion has not included event professionals. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has advised against large events for the next eight weeks and the latest recommendations from the White House discourage any gatherings of more than 10 people. This news has forced the meetings industry to a sudden halt, with events of all sizes forced to cancel or postpone indefinitely. The lack of business is sure to have a devastating economic impact and could lead to massive layoffs.
In an effort to preserve the industry, a petition for federal aid has begun circulating online. Started by event professional Isaac Rothwell on March 12, the petition has amassed more than 350,000 signatures already -- far surpassing the 100,000 threshold needed to require a response from the White House.
"The past month has seen an unprecedented number of event cancellations in the U.S. and worldwide," notes Rothwell, national director of operations at the audio-visual event company Digerati Productions, on the petition page. "The COVID-19 virus is unlike anything we have faced in our modern economic times. Currently, the live events and business meetings industry is in free fall and headed toward a complete collapse with no end in sight."
According to Rothwell, it is particularly important that the government provide aid for meetings, as it is a crucial business driver that cuts across all industries.
"We are looking at monumental setbacks for all business across the board in terms of professional collaboration and business development," said Rothwell. "These setbacks are due to not being able to attend business meetings, be it large conventions, trade shows, trainings, product launches... the list goes on. If the live events and business meetings industry, which is the invisible fabric that ties our U.S. business culture together, is not able to recover quickly, then all industries will be delayed in their recovery efforts as well. The potential economic losses are almost incalculable at this point."
To keep the events industry afloat, the petition calls for a federal aid package that includes but is not limited to the following:
- Emergency Medicaid health insurance to cover uninsured business owners, contractors and laid-off employees
- $200 billion in low interest, federally backed business liquidity loans
- $100 billion in employee retention grants
- The ability for event companies to submit cancelled contracts as loss of income on 2020 tax forms
- Inclusion of 1099 self-employed individuals in the Families First Coronavirus Response Act
- The ability for industry professionals to apply for unemployment insurance to cover lost income and get disability/sick pay for missed work
In addition to the petition, Rothwell has launched an event aid website and a Live Events Coalition, dedicated to supporting the meetings industry and raising funds from Congress. The coalition has garnered support from industry companies and associations such as PRG and the International Live Events Association.
"The petition was put together by [Rothwell] as a gut reaction to help our most vulnerable, small businesses and independent contractors. Many of us saw his initiative as a call to action and the Live Events Coalition was formed. We want to ensure that our industry, which is highly complex and varied, is part of the national conversation during this time of crisis," said Eileen Valois, SVP of strategic initiatives for PRG. "Our mission is to ensure that events-related businesses -- and the millions of Americans in our displaced workforce, including full and part-time workers, independent contractors and freelance professionals that we employ -- are included in future supplemental relief aid packages."
A similar petition calling for the economic assistance of events industry professionals in the UK has also been launched. The petition has received more than 149,000 signatures and will be considered by Parliament.