The World Health Organization (WHO) has taken the dramatic step of naming the coronavirus a pandemic, and meetings and events are being cancelled, postponed, or rescheduled daily. This affects conferences, conventions, religious gatherings, festivals—and professional sports leagues.
State and local governments around the country are limiting public gatherings. For example, the state of Washington has banned gatherings of more than 250 people. San Francisco has banned non-essential meetings of more than 50. The DC government has banned gatherings of more than 100. More are sure to follow.
Collaborative’s Events Team is working with dozens of organizations that are making challenging decisions about whether their events will proceed as scheduled, be postponed, or go virtual. Here are some tips to help you navigate this turbulent time, and make a societally responsible decision that, under the circumstances, best serves your organization’s mission and goals:
1. Prepare for changes.
If you haven’t canceled or rescheduled your event, local government guidelines may limit the number of people who can gather in order to safeguard your participants’ health and safety, and to limit the spread of the coronavirus. You may also find that your participants are unwilling to travel during this time.
2. Know your contracts.
Understand the terms, conditions, agreements, and penalties of your current contract and of all insurance riders your organization has in place. Look especially closely at force majeure clauses and what they include and don’t. Some contracts follow WHO regulations; others follow CDC guidelines. Travel agents and aggregators are flooded with calls, and you and your participants may spend hours on the phone. Work directly with your hotel, the airlines, travel agents, speakers, and other vendors to see what flexibility they can provide with respect to postponing or rebooking.
Looking forward: Expect to see changes in terms and agreements in new contracts from here on. Be sure to read contracts carefully, as they may contain new clauses.
3. Work with your funders and sponsors to see what flexibility they may offer.
Talk with your funders and sponsors about how you can secure their support if you end up changing or postponing your event as a result of the coronavirus. Discuss ways to extend and position the brand of your sponsors beyond the traditional physical exhibits and promotional materials.
4. Consider moving (at least parts of) your event online.
While a live speech may have greater impact, your speakers can leverage technology to find an audience online. Some speakers already work in places where they have access to live-streaming studios. And, there are several high-quality online platforms that provide broadcast quality video, sound, and lighting. Live-streamed video of a speaker can also include embedded media to enhance the audience experience.
5. If you postpone your event, rebook as soon as possible.
If you are postponing your event and need to rebook, work with your hotel partner to set the date as soon as possible. It will help you secure your speakers and participants, and it will enable everybody to rebook flights as soon as possible as well.
Rebooking your event now can help you to get your preferred new dates—there may be an unprecedented demand for hotels rooms, meeting space, catering later in the year—and may allow you to apply a portion of any fees toward the future meeting. Try to rebook within 2020, as your hotel will likely want to recognize the revenue in the same fiscal year. If you can’t use the existing contract at the same hotel, talk to your global sales representative about staying within its brand or alliance.
Reach out to us if we can help you think this through, or if you need assistance transforming your events to virtual meetings.