Many dollars are spent on B2B and B2C events every year and 2020 dawned no differently with the Customer Electronics Show kicking off the year and drawing more than 175,000 attendees. This week, we saw the cancellation of SXSW on the heels of a petition signed by more than 50,000 calling for the postponement of festivals and brands such as Twitter, Apple, Netflix, LinkedIn, and more pulling out of appearances. We all witnessed the cancellation and reconfiguration of live and virtual events from Adobe, Facebook, the Game Developers Conference, the Geneva Auto Show, and many others. The Vatican also announced that the weekly Pope addresses will be live-streamed. With the outbreak of novel corona-virus sweeping the world, increasing numbers of conference and festival organizers and host city governments are canceling events in the name of stemming the spread, despite the business effect it will cause. The impacts are reaching all industries from technology and sports to music and fashion and cultural events. And to protect employees and be sure business continuity, companies are banning international, and in a few cases, domestic travel, and placing restrictions on attending and hosting big scale gatherings. For several businesses, particularly sales teams, in-person interaction is the lifeblood of their plan. Events of today encompass a rich mix of traditional conferences and expos, gatherings of influencers and their fans, worldwide developer conferences, and actually any kind of live experience you can imagine. The worldwide pandemic of the COVID-19 virus has permanently changed the healthcare events and exhibitions industry. Indeed, it may be argued that the exhibitions and events industry was the first to be affected by the impacts of the COVID-19 virus. Virtually all pharmaceutical industry conferences, trade-shows, and exhibitions were canceled and postponed with no real confidence that any future date in 2020 will be viable. One of the several upcoming issues is that it is difficult to re-organize an event when we do not have a timescale to work to. Few newspaper reports have suggested that the COVID-19 can re-surface next winter, making event organizers nervous about committing time and money to re-scheduled events. Will we adapt to a new way of marketing and communications, with the old ways of working seeming outdated, or will it easily snap back to business as usual? Will virtual events be the new normal? Undoubtedly the events and exhibitions industry are incredibly resilient, and our human need to interact and exchange info face to face will result in a recovery in time. However, the effect of COVID-19 will have changed how we work forever.
While contingency strategies are on most organizers’ top lists of must-dos, the speed and depth of the impacts of the pandemic have surprised several people, and the financial implications are in few cases catastrophic. From 2021 onward, all key events will be seen with a keen eye to a potential disaster scenario. The unthinkable will become an agenda item after all, in a year that saw the cancellation of the Olympics, the Edinburgh Festival, and beautiful much every football match on the planet the future is harder to predict than ever. Contracts shall be tightened, and cancellation terms will be re-worded carefully. Suppliers and venues will be trying to protect themselves from losing revenue, while agencies and event managers will be trying to make sure they can avoid paying for an event that can never happen. There will be just as much concentrate on what happens if an event has to be canceled as there’s on making it a success.
While it will be remiss of any event and exhibition organizer to skimp on insurance, several insurers have excluded communicable diseases from their policies, particularly after previous outbreaks of SARS and Avian Flu. On top of terrorism and flooding, the insurance industry will take still another hit from many corona-viruses claims and will be taking steps to protect itself. Event particular insurance policies that include cover for corona-virus kind illnesses will undoubtedly become difficult to find and will be subject to stringent terms. Looking forward, insurers can continue to provide communicable disease cover as an optional extension, however, this will in most cases exclude COVID-19. Undoubtedly, insurance for events big and small will become a must-have (surprisingly this hasn’t been the case), because let us face it the next disaster can take a different form.
The role of technology
Events and exhibitions were using increasing amounts of technology to enhance their events, plus digital marketing to promote events, while social media enabled people to follow events remotely while they were really happening. However, we are now seeing event organizers look to live streaming to deliver their conference content to delegates sitting at house. How will this translate to exhibitions and events in the future? Will virtual events be the way forward? Possibly not. While the days of the single meeting flight and the round table meeting for a handful of geographically-dispersed people are beautiful much over, medium to big scale exhibitions and events meet a different requirement. Exhibitions are tactile and provide opportunities that easily cannot be reproduced electronically, even in the most realistic VR world. Anybody who has ever attended the Edinburgh Festival, Glastonbury or a World Cup match knows the visceral excitement of being part of a live event and a such as minded group of human beings. However, what the pandemic has taught us is that there’re advantages to streaming, VR, and online collaboration and it’ll accelerate the use of these technologies as enhancements and added value to live event programmers.
Etiquette and health and safety
Will we ever go back to shaking hands? Will anybody with a cough be a persona non grata at an event? Will big-scale exhibitions temperature check all delegates as they enter the arena and exhibition hall? Some of these will definitely feature in the instant post-COVID-19 world, but memories are short and old habits will soon return. However, few practices will become the norm. For several years, cruise ships have had hand sanitizers sited about ships to protect passengers from corona-virus, which is an ever-present threat. So, it will be at busy exhibitions and events as we add corona-virus protection to the H&S checklist. Maybe our industry will lead the way in demonstrating we can balance the need to assemble and interact with a real awareness of the requirement to maintain safe practices and self-isolation for those with illness.