Below is our latest EA Insights report from EventAdvisor - sign up HERE to get email notifications about once per month.
The significant and unforeseen impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the conference industry started to be felt when the prominent summits of Microsoft, Google and later also Facebook and SXSW were cancelled at the beginning of March. We were all shocked by the dramatic growth of the virus in Europe and the subsequent rapid spread in the United States. Especially since the peril had been looming behind the Chinese wall for some time. But even if it hadn’t, would we have been able to better prepare in the events industry? Probably not.
In the second week of March, the whole events industry started to collapse. Some of the organizers got stuck on their decision about their planned events and decided to wait. To see whether the situation is really that serious. They didn't want to make hasty and premature decisions amidst general coronavirus panic and confusion. However, those who did make a fast decision can now enjoy the advantage of having the venue or online solutions to their events.
One week later it was clear that none of the planned March events would take place. And another week after that, we could all witness the events being cancelled one by one, causing a domino effect.
Event Advisor and COVID-19
Here at Event Advisor we got stuck as well. For a few days, we didn't know what to do with thousands of events listed for the first half of 2020. There was a question whether organizers would find a solution to make them happen, whether they would cancel or reschedule. Of course, we fully understood that updating this info on Event Advisor website would be at the bottom of their priority list in these trying times.
It didn't take us long to take action though. We found the sources to manually update all of their events, one by one, to get the most updated list and let organizers focus on their priorities. And the final outcome is pretty impressive; the following are insights from March US Events listed on Event Advisor.
So, what have we found out?
We have analyzed more than 900 US conferences, seminars, summits and exhibitions.
The surprising fact is that 28.5 percent still took place. Once we analyze the rest of the world, it will be interesting to make a global scale comparison. Because of the delayed response by the U.S. government to the coronavirus outbreak (much, much later than Europe), there was one event that took place even on March 12th, just one day before President Trump declared a state of national emergency.
What happened in March?
It goes without saying that not only business events have been affected by the novel coronavirus. This virus has no conscience and we could hear on the news that everything from the sports events, including the 2020 Summer Olympic Games, to new movie releases and Broadway shows to concerts and tours have been stricken as well.
While the whole world started to cancel events and all the social gatherings from February onwards, USA followed suit and began to take preventive measures only after President Trump declared a national emergency on March 13th. This was a major decisive factor for organizers of March events.
Very few cancelled Events
From the diagram depicting statistical data above we can see that only 7 percent of March events have actually been cancelled. It seems like all the other organizers found a way not to disappoint their attendees and sponsors.
If cancelling is out of the question, the only options left are either rescheduling or going online. However, none of these options is easy. The problem with going online is the technological solution, which can be pretty costly at times and doesn't fulfil all the expectations of attendees.
For example, the attendee's priority is usually networking and building new meaningful business relationships. Even though some of the online conferences’ solutions do offer some networking and matchmaking features, nothing can replace the standard handshake (a very unfortunate thing to do in times of coronavirus). Moreover, in some industries, attendees are not keen on using technologies and prefer face-to-face business meetings.
For those who have the chance to go online, we tried to help the organizers by researching the top-rated technologies for online conferences: bit.ly/switchtoonline .
Going virtual will become more popular in the future
From the total number of March US Conferences, there is almost 7 percent that went online. In such a short period of time, there were only a few organizers who managed to find their solution and decided to handle all the necessary procedures connected to virtual events. That being said, we expect even more events going digital in April as well as some other new cool technologies replacing the standard conferences to come into play. Stay tuned and wait for the latest statistics.
We are getting used to the ‘new normal’ amid COVID-19 pandemic
It is interesting to observe the changes this situation caused across all industries. Everything and everyone that had the opportunity to go digital, did so. The bands started to produce their videos online, Zoom gained enormous popularity and you can see people chatting with various and sometimes even funny digital backgrounds. What has also become a new trend in the world of sharing know-how and learning are free webinars and online events. Marketing, HR, technology and even the events industry are packed with possibilities of joining the online gathering to discuss the insecure future. And, of course, there’s usually some kind of sales pitch of the organizer at the end of each streaming.
The nightmare called rescheduling
The other group of organizers decided to reschedule their events to a later date. On the graph below, we can also differentiate between more optimistic organizers and less positive ones. Those confident ones have rescheduled their events to summer months. In fact, 16 percent of them have rescheduled to June or July. But, as much as we keep our fingers crossed for them, they might have to reschedule their overly optimistic outlook and find a new alternative date for their event.
The safest bet in March seemed to be to postpone to autumn months. However – now in mid-April – do we still think of this estimate as a plausible one? More than 25 percent of events and their organizers are in the process of waiting out the pandemic and receiving the all-clear for travelling and social gatherings, but so far, September doesn’t look very promising. So let's be patient and see what happens over the next weeks.
The tricky part of rescheduling events is that there is a massive problem with the availability of the best venue places in the most in-demand conference centers. Also, the cost of rescheduling is not funny at all in regard to the frozen situation in the events industry. Most of the organizers simply cannot afford any additional costs given that their income dropped to zero overnight. And let's not forget about the risk of the chosen date. Which one is a safer bet to reschedule to – October or 2021? For those who are still undecided, we have collected the best options to select the available venue places through venue sourcing tools here: bit.ly/jvenuesourcing . As of now, we can see that 17 percent of events have the status TBA and it is tough to say which category they'll belong to eventually. But of course, we’ll keep you in the loop.
What will happen in the next months?
There are a lot of ongoing discussions about the best courses of action to undertake in the events industry. While some organizers are applying for government support, others are trying to get by on their own. Many organizers and companies are jumping at the opportunity to digitize their events. And many technological event suppliers are developing better and better solutions for them.
However, can we say that the attendees themselves are now in the right mind-set for attending events? Is a typical business professional in the mood for discussing anything else but COVID-19 or the worst economic fallout since the Great Depression that won’t spare us and is already looming around the corner?
Since nobody has asked them these questions yet, we feel like it’s our responsibility to do so. Let’s ask people about their needs. After all, there would be no events without attendees and no reason to fret over whether to postpone or go online.
Is it possible to predict the end of pandemic with accuracy?
In short – no. This is simply because even scientists themselves don’t know it yet. And unfortunately, this isn’t helping event organizers when it comes to the onerous task of rescheduling events.
Brian Resnick, a science reporter at Vox.com, explains that scientists use infectious disease models as tools for predicting the possible outcome of the pandemic. These models are based on mathematical formulations, often confusing to interpret, and most importantly, they’re not crystal balls.
Bill Hanage, an epidemiologist who studies infectious diseases at Harvard, says that the data they’re working with are no textbook materials; the ideal data isn’t yet available.
“That’s not a model result, that’s an observation. We know it because of Wuhan, we know it because of Italy, because of Spain, we know it because, now, of New York.“
Or, if you prefer scientific explanations to be presented through a metaphor, Hanage offers one: “It’s looking at how fast and hard the freight train has hit on other stops of its journey, and predicting it will hit that fast and hard when it gets to new stops.”
And these observations are a large part of what government leaders use to make decisions.
Bill Gates predicted the pandemic. Can he predict when it will end?
As you might have heard by now, Bill Gates warned about the pandemic in a 2015 TED Talk and said explicitly that the world better get ready before it’s too late. This warning didn’t come out of nothing, however, as he has spent the last few decades focused, through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, on improving global health, including reducing the spread of infectious diseases.
On April 7th this year, in an interview with the PBS NewsHour journalist Judy Woodruff, Bill Gates shared his latest thoughts on the novel coronavirus crisis.
According to Gates, in order to go back to the same carefree living we took for granted before the COVID-19 pandemic broke out, we need one and only thing – a vaccine for everyone.
“The vaccine is critical, because, until you have that, things aren't really going to be normal. They can open up to some degree, but the risk of a rebound will be there until we have very broad vaccination.”
Now, the next question that begs to be asked is when that vaccine would be available. According to the scientists Gates works with and communicates with all the time, it could take up to 18 months to develop such a vaccine. In other words, it could be the autumn of 2021 before we can feel 100 percent safe to engage in all the activities we can think of.
As of mid-April, as many countries are finally managing to flatten the curve, we can already see that first plans for gradual reopening of schools and businesses are starting to emerge. At this very moment, September/October 2020 sound pretty pandemic-proof, like a time when quite a few human activities might resume.
Still, when it comes to such a social activity as an event is (nothing gets more social, really), the biggest decisive factor here will be the number of attendees. The higher the number of attendees, the higher the risk of virus transmission. Burning Man, for example, a mega event attracting over 70,000 visitors each year, originally scheduled for August 30th -September 7th 2020, was cancelled as well. And it’s the latest event to go virtual.
In Bill Gates’ opinion schools will reopen in the autumn 2020 as having a classroom with 30 young people in it may be just fine. However, as far as large public gatherings are concerned, Gates thinks these may not resume until broad vaccination has taken place.
Fingers crossed it will be very soon.