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It is safe to say that we are discussing a new events industry these days — one swept away by the most tragic and catastrophic epidemic the modern world has faced.
As soon as event professionals realized the severity of the coronavirus impact and the importance of flattening the curve, three options materialized:
- Pivot to Virtual
Many event professionals soon rushed to avoid cancellations. And I agree: Cancellation should be the last resort. I am thinking about large events. I am thinking 150,000-plus.
As the chant ‘Don’t cancel, postpone’ rose, many event professionals announced postponement. While that gives temporary relief, there are several issues associated with the decision to postpone.
Don’t get me wrong. Postponement has all my respect, but what happens when all events in two or three months are going to be postponed?
I also started to ask myself, postpone until when?
Here are some considerations of the postponement strategy to keep in mind:
Postponement Will Mean a Busy Q4
Many events will be postponed to the last three months of 2020. This seems to be the safest choice, as opposed to those postponing to summer (more about that in a moment). The likely result of this strategy will be an incredibly stuffed calendar in October, November, and December.
Established events that happen during this time will have a competitive advantage, and the production of events that happen at the same time every year may not be as smooth.
Venues will be overcrowded or at capacity, and event cities like Las Vegas and Orlando will be busier than normal. That is not a bad premise, but it could severely impact the experience of attendees as well as upset locals.
This is obviously provided that the economy bounces back and that the virus does not make a reappearance in autumn.
Postpone Until When?
Many events postponed to summer in the hopes that the heat would kill the virus. This strategy is based on the historic observation that the flu dies down during summer months. This is quite a risky strategy.
The only fact we know is that nobody really knows how long the outbreak will last.
China, Italy and South Korea could be some examples to look at.
China has implemented unmatched quarantine restrictions and is now claiming to be in the descending phase of the outbreak. Calculations place the start of community spread on Jan. 15. Three months in, China is still reporting cases — far less, but it is still happening. The country is also exposed to its neighbours importing the virus back into China once economic recovery measures are initiated and borders and industries open back up.
Italy had its first case on Feb 20. They are now in week four of the outbreak and cases are rising steadily. The country implemented severe measures only two weeks into the spread of the virus. The first inflection point in the most hit region was after three weeks, though the virus is now picking up in other areas. The first results of the lockdown will be seen in two weeks time.
These timelines show what progression looks like in the best case scenario of three months. Only South Korea did better by containing the spread with 200,000 tests, drive-through testing, and phone GPS tracking.
Looking at the current situation in Europe and North America, the end of June is a popular prediction for more containment. Not accurate and very risky.
We are witnessing the first cancellations of events in May and early June. Of course, the virus may go down altogether because of summer, or because of herd immunity. Nobody knows.
The Economic Question Mark
Postponement also assumes that the economy will be in the same state as it was when the decision to move was made. Looking at the markets, border shutdowns, travel bans, etc., it does not seem likely that, in three months time, everything will be back to normal.
It will also be quite difficult for new attendees to purchase tickets because of the financial strain. It’s highly likely corporate attendees may have lost their job in the meanwhile. Recession may have hit many countries.
Assuming that everything will revert back to the economic position of February 2020 seems naive to say the least.
SO WHAT SHOULD YOU DO?
In business, success is sometimes linked to the degree of risk you are willing to take.
Planners comfortable with a higher degree of risk should opt for summer.
Those with risk adversity should choose Q4 2020 or Q1 2021.
By all means, an incredible event may happen causing the virus to disappear, and we can get back our lives. So take this advice with caution.
You will lose some money and attendees, but you know what you are facing. And you are keeping business alive. On top of that, you have the undisputed attention of millions of work-from-home attendees.