On My Agenda: Coping With Coronavirus During a Watershed Week for Meetings

This week marked a turning point for our industry – and our lives. It will take a creative, collaborative spirit to get through this crisis.

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Coronavirus & Meetings
Head here to see Northstar Meetings Group’s comprehensive and continuing coverage of how coronavirus is affecting meetings.

On Tuesday afternoon, March 10, we published a statement signed by 150 travel industry organizations – including Northstar Travel Group – insisting that healthy Americans can continue to travel safely in the U.S. and need not cancel due to COVID-19. Facts, not fear, should guide our decisions, the article emphasized.

Wednesday morning, I was on a call with the planning team for WILMI, our women's leadership conference set for next week in Washington D.C. We decided unanimously to stay the course and demonstrate our commitment to meetings and events in such challenging times.

Fast forward to Thursday morning. I began writing this from my kitchen, upon Northstar's suggestion that employees work from home. My kids' schools are shutting down, and the only place you can find a crowd is at the supermarket. IMEX Frankfurt regretfully cancelled, and the WILMI team made a decision to reschedule.

Today the World Travel and Tourism Council projected that the global travel industry could shrink by 25 percent this year — putting some 50 million jobs at risk.

This week marked a turning point for our industry – and our lives. It's one of those rare moments in history where everything we take for granted is dramatically upended. We've felt this kind of shock in the wake of natural disasters or terrorist acts. This is different. Everyone on our planet is experiencing this global disruption. Today we are all global citizens, united in uncertainty and concern.

WHAT NOW?

We need to work together to get through this crisis. Gary Shapiro, president and CEO of the Consumer Technology Association (producer of CES), shared his thoughts on how planners and suppliers can support one another: Event producers can ease deadlines for exhibitor payments; hotels and airlines can be flexible about cancellations and changes; convention centers can allow for space reductions. With empathy and kindness, he noted, we will find solutions.

For our part, the Northstar Meetings Group content team has become a round-the-clock wire service for COVID-19 and its historic impact on the meetings industry. Our Coronavirus and Meetings hub isn't just reporting the news, but offering coping strategies and advice. Need to cancel? Here's how to prepare to hold your meeting virtually instead. Does your insurance cover your losses, or does force majeure apply? We have that story for you, too.

WHAT'S NEXT?

When we meet again, our agendas will be different; our meeting formats might be, too.

Among those hopeful that some measure of normalcy will return by summer is Meeting Professionals International. As of now, MPI's annual World Education Congress will take place as planned, June 6-9, in Grapevine, Texas, according to MPI president and CEO Paul Van Deventer. The programming will be updated to address the COVID-19 crisis. "WEC Grapevine may be the first large-scale gathering for our community as recovery begins," said Van Deventer, "making this a key opportunity for our industry to band together and rally behind the positive impact we can make on our world."

The organizers of C2, a trailblazing event in creativity, posted a message on the website for the event, set for May 27-29 in Montreal. Without announcing a date change or cancellation, the note reads: "This is not business as usual, but at C2 it never is. Right now, our team is putting all its creative energy to work doing what C2 does best: embrace change, reinvent and answer challenges with bold solutions to create an unforgettable experience."

This crisis is an unforgettable experience of a different sort. Let's approach it with the same creative, collaborative spirit, knowing that our industry will be all the better for it.

How are you coping? How can we help? Please let me know.