Note: Originally posted on March 3, 2020. Since the time of posting, SXSW has officially been cancelled.
The new buzzword in the event industry has changed as of late. It’s not augmented reality or unique animations. It’s not ROI or metrics. It’s a buzzword that didn’t exist a few months ago, a new trend that is sweeping the world.
It’s the coronavirus.
In an industry that is based on people gathering together — whether it’s a few dozen or a few thousand — sponsors and producers are beginning to experience first hand how the coronavirus, as well as the fear surrounding it, can effect the event world.
What does that mean for those of us in the event industry?
We’ve already experienced our fair share of coronavirus event cancellations, mainly from events where people were flying in from other locations. The fear of flying and contracting the virus is a huge deterrent at the moment, and companies big and small are restricting non-essential travel, or even coming into work in general. Companies like Amazon, Twitter, Salesforce, Nestle, L’Oreal and Cargill have all strongly suggested employees restrict travel for the time being.
Here in Austin, there is currently an online petition with over 35,000 signatures to cancel SXSW outright. Twitter, Facebook and Intel, major players in the tech space, which is one of the core components of SXSW, have already cancelled their presences at the event.
We are just at the infancy stages of the coronavirus as new cases pop up domestically here in the US and internationally as well, so for the time being, expect cancellations to spread as the virus itself does.
Know your Contract
Deposits and cancellation clauses are the norm in the event industry, so review your contract language to know your rights. However, try to be reasonable with cancellations. These coronavirus event cancellations are effecting everyone involved — from the event planners to the person providing the uplighting. Everyone is getting hit by this. If you’re in the position to hold the retainer for future use by the client, instead of just cashing in on that cancellation policy, try to do so. Remember, this is the “Act of God” category of event cancellation and we’re at the mercy of how this virus continues to spread.
Protect your Employees
Much like other brands are cancelling events out of respect for their employees, learn ways to protect your staff as well. Allow for telecommuting and working from home if possible, especially if someone is sick. Keep your space clean and wipe down commonly touched surfaces such as doorknobs and handles. Disinfect your phones and devices. And if you travel, leave the facemask at home (unless you’re actually sick) — the key component is keeping your hands clean and away from your face to. What are we doing? Wearing sterile latex gloves on flights, which prevents you from touching your face and transmitting viruses, bacteria, and other gross things into your body. When you’re at your hotel, take off and throw away the gloves, wash your hands, and you’ve escaped the perils of flight. Now the hotel.. that’s another story.
Protect your Guests
For providers like ourselves that use touchscreens, start out with a clean and disinfected screen. Throughout the event, when possible, use a disinfectant wipe to reset the germ and virus levels on surfaces. If you’re using props, sanitize them with disinfectant spray before and after the event. Finally, have sanitizing gel available to guests (and your staff) to use as they wish.
The Future of the Coronavirus
With any luck, as we get into the spring and summer months, cases of coronavirus should start to fade. There’s a reason there is a “flu season” (although aberrations exist), and that’s because airborne viruses have a better chance of survival in cooler, damper, shadier environments. Summer sun and warmer temperatures shorten the lifespan of viruses outside the body, lowering infection rates. However, that’s the scientific effect — the emotional and mental effect of the virus may linger on well past its actual physical effects, causing cancellations well into the summer.
One of world’s largest events — the Summer Olympics — has already spoken about postponement. Will we see coronavirus event cancellations or postponements of other worldwide gatherings such as San Diego Comic-Con or the MLB All-Star game? What about E3 or VidCon? Only time will tell, and event organizers will likely have to make decisions before the fate of the coronavirus is clear.
Coronavirus Cancellations to Date
According to the LA Times, the following events have been cancelled, postponed or turned into online only events:
- Mobile World Congress, Barcelona, Feb. 24-27
- Trans-Pacific Merchants, Long Beach, March 1-4
- American Physical Society meeting, Denver, March 2-6
- Natural Products Expo West, Anaheim, March 3-7 (Conference organizers say the event is postponed and that next month, they will announce a new date.)
- Geneva International Motor Show, Geneva, Switzerland, March 5-15
- Facebook Global Marketing Summit, San Francisco, March 9-12
- CERAWeek, Houston, March 9-13
- Game Developers Conference, San Francisco, March 16-20 (Conference organizers say the event is postponed until summer.)
- Livre Paris book fair, Paris, March 20-23
- Nvidia GPU Technology Conference, San Jose, March 22-26 (The conference will now be an online event.)
- Bologna Children’s Book Fair, Bologna, Italy, March 30-April 2 (rescheduled for May 4-7)
- Google Cloud Next ’20, San Francisco, April 6-8 (The conference will now be an online event.)
- Facebook F8 conference, San Jose, May 5-6