Coronavirus & Event Industry

Here's a quick research question or two: Are you an event agency or organiser whose conference, industry congress, concert, festival, exhibition or fair already been affected (aka cancelled or postponed) by the coronavirus frenzy? Have you already experienced any quantifiable coronavirus impact on your business, even if the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases is...just one, as is the case in Poland? And finally, is it the right time to attach numbers, percentage points or, better still, share a couple of practical recommendations and risk-mitigation ideas for the industry in crisis?
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Whether you talk about concerts, festivals or great many types of conferences, the global event landscape is already experiencing the negative impact of the coronavirus. After all, the MICE industry, as it is often referred to, is all about meetings, networking, knowledge-sharing and entertainment, all of which have at least one thing in common: a small, large or very large audience gathered at a single event venue or within a pre-defined perimeter.

And so, if you happen to be a professional event organiser today (and have been one for decades), chances are you may soon run into the kind of (budgetary) trouble you haven't seen coming, not even with your experience. Here's a very interesting example (SXSW) of a story potentially unfolding into quite a legal quagmire. 

Event industry = Audience + Networking

For event organisers, taking the audience part out of the usual 'successful-event equation' typically translates to a long list of (potentially insurmountable) obstacles, unless you start walking the talk of what management books mean by 'disruptive innovation'. In the face of the single most disruptive virus of the 21st century (so far), it may be one of the few options left to you, other than freezing your event business temporarily and cutting the costs down to bare bone, if only to survive the wait.

Twitter stuff to Twitter staff: Work from home!

Looking at the headquarters of big international tech companies, it appears many of them are entering what could be described as ghost protocol, i.e. encouraging as many of their employees as possible to work from home. While big corporations are generally quick(er) to understand risk management, especially when there is a potential media angle attached, for high-risk situations, in particular, they'd rather go for the 'overzealous' than 'procrastinating', let alone 'belated'. And so, it will hardly come as a surprise that the ca. 5,000 Twitter employees are now officially encouraged to work from home. This is only after a number of big tech companies, headed by the example of Google, have taken measures to stay safe.

Coronavirus and the global event industry

The list of big events already cancelled is already quite a read, not to mention those likely to be cancelled soon, with a strong sense of probability already hanging in the air (however ironic the pun). If you feel unconvinced, here's another list of cancelled events. And here's another. As far as the EU countries go, it's probably just the beginning.

With Britain's NHS raising COVID-19's status to "level 4 incident", over a dozen of the world's most iconic tech-industry conferences already cancelled, and the Japanese authorities in doubt whether they should be postponing the July/August Summer Olympics in Tokyo, there's more than enough reason for concern, not only for the event world, of course.

Event auditor's perspective

A few calendar-planning phone calls over the last few days and a quick 'ground-testing' post on Facebook last night was enough to get a reasonable idea of where the 2020 event industry may be heading, days and weeks before this year's event season even started in earnest. In short, it already appears that few industries may experience the negative long-term impact of COVID-19 more painfully than the global event industry. Some airlines, perhaps.

Poland: the first official coronavirus patient (4 March 2020)

While Italy is seriously considering whether to temporarily close all of the country's schools, the first COVID-19 patient in Poland is only confirmed two days ago. Still, event cancellations and last-minute preventive 'interventions' by the authorities are already very much part of the event landscape in Poland. Most visibly to date, perhaps, the iconic Intel Extreme Masters in Katowice was 'sealed off' for its legendary 150,000+ audiences, at the very last minute. On 27 February 2020, ESL published the following statement on its website (excerpt below):

If you purchased a ticket to IEM Katowice 2020, please do not show up at the venue tomorrow or on the weekend. 

It breaks our heart that, today at 19:45 CET we were informed that, due to the dynamic changes in the global health situation, the Masters Championship at IEM Katowice 2020 has been closed to the public by the Polish Gouverneur of Silesia hours before its door opening. 

We respect the decision from the local authorities. Your health and well-being stand above everything else.

How big a hit for the event industry in Poland: 10%, 30% or ....%?

Despite the rising anxiety and the recently-adopted legislation introducing new powers for authorities in a state of emergency, so far, the situation appears to be well under control and some event organisers make it a point to emphasise that their March/April events (planned for the next few days and weeks) will continue uninterrupted. Kraków's 2nd International Conference HISTORICAL CITIES 3.0, scheduled for 11-12 March, is a case in point.

Looking on the bright side

With the massive practical experience already gained by other EU countries and Poland's "luxury position" of being able to avoid others' mistakes and draw the right conclusions based on other governments' actions, the country is so far doing rather well, trying to avoid the bigger risks attached to even the mildest incarnation of panic. Other than stockpiling food (or buying a bit more than usual), possibly fewer people in pubs and public spaces, and, last but not least, coronavirus on everyone's lips (again, an unfortunate pun), it is probably fair to say far, so good.

Reading the early signs...

One thing is certain: COVID-19 is not a joke and should under no circumstances be underestimated. In fact, it needs to be treated extremely seriously. According to the World Health Organization, the viruse's current mortality rate stands at 3,4%, which is high in its own right. However, when you take a closer look at the upper age bracket, the figure triples, even quadruples for 80+ patients. The fact that the biggest tech conferences worldwide have already been cancelled or postponed speaks volumes. Some of the best event organisers in the world are generally neither quick, nor happy to cancel what they have been working on for months and years, so if they eventually decide to pursue this path it means something, doesn't it.

While it may be understandable (if only for financial reasons) that a global premiere of the new Bond (No time to die) is postponed from April to November, human capacity for panic and irrational behaviour, especially after a long spell of uninterrupted peace and quiet, should never be underestimated. If you don't believe me, just watch this BBC update, starting from 10:10.


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