Will Coronavirus signal a downward spiral for events industry? Don’t bet on it.

Since the Covid-19 outbreak, and as events are cancelled around the world, some have questioned their value.

 The US$ 1tn+ global events industry is at the sharp end of the disruption unleashed by the virus, as conferences, trade exhibitions, festivals and sporting events have been cancelled in a scramble to contain the global outbreak.

Some of the worlds biggest events are among the casualties as the pandemic presents an unprecedented challenge to an industry built around gathering people together and some event organisers face the risk that the disruption extends into the summer and beyond.

As the number of coronavirus cases climb worlwide, the effects will continue to have an impact on the events industry. It can be guaranteed that event forecasts are being scrapped.

RELX’s events business generated about 16% of worldwide revenues last year. Informa, the world’s largest exhibition company, although not cancelling, have postponed several events – in 2018, half ofthe group’s revenues come from its exhibitions arm, amounting to £1.4bn. After cancelling this year, some organisers are questioning whether to hold the same event in 2021.

Part of the consideration will be if they can buy insurance that includes communicable diseases. After previous outbreaks such as Sars and Avian Flu, many insurers typically exclude diseases such as coronavirus. Those policies that do have it as an add-on can make a claim if local authorities ban public gatherings. But since the outbreak, no insurance will cover coronavirus — even as an additional clause.

Companies who participate in events are also asking, “Why do we need to spend a week overseas in the age of Skype, Zoom, live streaming and video conferencing?”. When you take into consideration the problems with air travel and the fact that businesses need to be doing something about climate change, many are using coronavirus as a catalyst for a rethink.

One of the main benefits of events is the ability for professionals to meet face-to-face, but that benefit comes with apotential global health risk. An alternative, instead of cancelling or postponing an event, is for organisers to turn to technology as a solution to holding events.

The development of VR and AV technologies and their increased capabilities enable them to provide a more immersive remote attendance. Remote options will become increasingly important in the following months, offering attendees the opportunity to experience events without the health concerns associated with travel and crowds.

If organisers can effectively manage the potential technical difficulties that may arise and keep attendees engaged,virtual meetings will allow them to go through with their event as planned without risking anyone’s wellbeing in the process.

Wherever the coronavirus takes the events industry, it needs a Future-Forward mindset to survive.

Organizers can help participant decision-making by easing timetables for exhibitor, sponsor and attendee reimbursement plans. If they have alternate events planned for later in the calendar year, it would be a good idea to work with exhibitors, sponsors and attendees, checking to see who would be willing to switch travel plans to remain loyal and participate in the future event, even if at a reduced cost.

With social distancing being the buzzword, organisers must consider that trends may lean toward smaller, more intimate corporate gatherings and should start conversations with venue partners about downsizing spaces and space reduction possibilities.  Hybrid events could greatly assist in financial balancing while the industry slowly incorporates the return of face-to-face interactions.

It is difficult to predict what the impact of the coronavirus outbreak will be with certainty, but the industry has been here before. The industry should take comfort from a record of recovering from scares. Since Sars there have been all sorts of things like the Iraq war which impacted the business, but it bounced back very quickly, though the recovery after coronavirus will inevitably take some time.

In the short term, event organisers need to be flexible, adaptable and nimble to change, assessing the potential impact of the coronavirus on events on a case by case basis.

Long term, governments, common sense or economics will dictate travel ban lengths and other necessary restrictions.  During this time, the events industry needs to be creative, cooperative and unified in remembering why human, face-to-face contact matters and will always prevail.

Events promote innovation, business, the spread of knowledge and inspire five-sense experiences among individuals with shared interests in a single location.

Rather than despair, the events industry can use this challenging time to prepare for a future of opportunity and to forge closer relationships with clients, customers, colleagues, partners and even competitors.

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