What is COVID-19?
The growing coronavirus outbreak, described as "uncharted territory" by Tedros Adhanom, the chief of the World Health Organization, is impacting more and more industries around the world.
The new strain of coronavirus, COVID-19, which broke out in Wuhan, China, in December 2019, has infected over 200,000 people (updated 19 March 2020) globally according to John Hopkins University. The World Health Organization declared the outbreak a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC).
The Effect on the Events Industry
The events industry has not found itself immune to ripple effects, as human contact and networking are at its very core. Hundreds (and counting) of exhibitions and conferences worldwide have been canceled or postponed, including the Mobile World Congress, the world’s largest trade show for the mobile phone industry, Facebook's Global Marketing Summit and the Beijing Auto Show.
Baselworld, the world's largest watch and jewelry show, was postponed to 2021 and the Geneva International Motor Show was also canceled this year - for context, the only other times in history it was ever canceled was during World War I and World War II.
Uta Goretzky, Executive Director at the International Federation of Exhibition and Event Services, noted that weekend of 29 February to 1 March 2020 saw more than 3 million square meters of exhibition space rented in Europe alone fall victim to the outbreak. According to data intelligence company PredictHQ:
"The direct economic loss from the cancellation from eight major tech conferences over coronavirus has already reached $666 million."
What Can Organizers do?
Here's what event organisers can do to get ahead of the curve and make sure their events are equipped to handle the crisis.
Canceling your event would be an unfortunate decision and would require doing due diligence about the insurance and refund policies of the service providers and venue of your event. If governmental restrictions, travel bans or other external factors prevent you from going ahead with your event, you can check out Association Now's informative article on insurance for canceled events.
Because Swapcard works in partnership with events organizers, we understand the pressure the industry is under and are doing everything we can to take some of that pressure off. Our partners that have recently canceled events have had our full support and been refunded for any work not yet executed.
You might consider postponing your event. While the industry seems confident that things will soon be back to normal, bear in mind that nobody knows exactly when this health crisis will end, so effective communication is crucial, both with attendees and exhibitors.
Once you have a new date in mind, use the appropriate channels to inform everyone involved, but be sure to keep the marketing momentum going. You can make the most of the time leading up to the event to allow attendees and exhibitors to communicate and network through your events app. Swapcard allows participants to network virtually, connecting with relevant contacts and organising meetings before they even arrive at the event.
If you decide to go ahead with your event on the original dates, there are a few things to bear in mind. Make sure you know what the local government is saying regarding meetings (for example, in France, meetings of more than 5,000 people in a confined space are forbidden) and reach out to airlines, airports and hotels to find out if they have specific rules or regulations in place.
Communicate to your attendees and exhibitors that health and safety are the top priorities. You might want to introduce a "No-Touch Policy", discouraging the shaking of hands, and instead encourage waving and the bowing of heads to acknowledge each other. Various events, including as seafood expo in Boston and have successfully communicated their "No-Touch Policy". Other events are communicating tips like washing hands before every session and are setting up facilities thermal scanning.
Tough times call for innovation and with today's technology, going virtual is easier than ever. Conference calls, live streaming and online networking are all options to keep your event running smoothly and still capitalise on connections. However, not all events are well suited for virtual measures. Events where attendees need to physically see or feel products and where there are over 10,000 attendees might prove difficult via streaming.
Virtual events have been a hot topic in the events industry for the past few years, but the coronavirus outbreak has forced the acceleration of online tools. Tech platforms have found themselves in high demand and have no choice but to come up with solutions for events organizers.
We at Swapcard are among those finding innovative solutions and are currently tailoring event platforms for those who choose to go virtual. We can integrate conference call and live streaming links and we can boost engagement with chatrooms and live Q&A sessions in your event app.
Netexplo is a great example of an organiser that has decided to go virtual with two upcoming global events using Swapcard's personalised features. The Innovation Forum and the Smart Cities Accelerator, both originally planned to take place in March at UNESCO in Paris, will go ahead via streaming.
At Swapcard, we've personalised their platform to allow for streaming directly via the mobile app for each session and we have also created a chatroom for all attendees to further ensure connections during the event. Interaction is key when face-to-face is not an option.
An unexpected positive outcome of going virtual is that Netexplo's events could attract more attendees than originally planned with the new possibility of reaching more people around the world via streaming. The event will be streamed on three different platforms and will be available to a much wider audience.
Event Manager Blog has published a handy list of tips for successful virtual events that could help organisers put their best foot forward, and mentioned the importance of thoroughly briefing speakers.
"Remember virtual meetings should be conducted at a slower pace than traditional meetings and it may help to allow for dramatic pauses after important statements, questions, and assignments as there can be a lag in connection of 2-3 seconds for some portions of your attendees."
Ensure that you're making the most of your events platform by sending push notifications 30 minutes before each session and encouraging chatroom or forum discussions during the event. Speakers could incorporate live Q&A sessions to further engage the audience online.
Future of events in times of crisis
If there's a lesson to learn from this global outbreak, it's that one can never be too prepared for the future. Being flexible and ready to adapt is a key trait event organisers will need to have going forward. Accelerating technological advancements will likely be a result of the demand for innovation, and this could make crises easier to handle in the future. If coronavirus or any other external factors end up hanging around for longer than predicted, potential results could include reduced fixed costs for events organizers and a drop in the industry's carbon footprint. We can't predict the future, but we know we have to keep calm and carry on.
However, an extended period of panic and fear could lead to devastating consequences. In France, where 335,000 jobs in the events sector are at risk due to the coronavirus outbreak, the association LÉVÉNEMENT has put out a campaign to raise awareness and mobilise authorities. They are calling for an emergency plan of solidarity for the entire industry.
But while virtual solutions can save a business, an event or a movement, we remain positive that this crisis will soon be dealt with and that we as an industry can look forward to many more in-person events. After all, nothing beats the face-to-face human connection on which we all thrive.