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A Healthy Conversation

By Bob Priest-Heck

I’ve been closely following the important discussions relating to the Coronavirus and its implications on those of us in the meetings, exhibitions and events industry. This includes not just show organizers, corporations, show exhibitors, and suppliers, but also travel and hospitality industries. And each has a unique perspective. The big question for organizers and exhibitors is, “should we cancel, or should we carry on with a cautionary plan?” The health of our communities — their physical well-being as well as their economic vigor — is at risk in any decision, whether it’s to proceed or to cancel.

To do what’s right by our employees, clients, suppliers, event participants and others, we have to understand the risks involved in whatever decision we make. We must ask ourselves tough questions that provide the necessary information to make thoughtful, informed decisions. These can include (but are certainly not limited to):

  • Is the event planned in a location where COVID-19 is active or at risk?
  • Can the event be relocated?
  • Is the volume of attendance, the nature of the interactions, or the international-travel mix a consideration?
  • Can or should the event be re-thought as a virtual experience?
  • Is the event critical to the marketing plans of small businesses that rely on the show for the health of their companies?
  • How might we best serve each of our constituencies and our communities?

A number of organizations have made the tough decision to cancel their events rather than risk spreading the Coronavirus. Likewise, some organizations have determined that their event is at low-risk for spreading the virus and that cancelling could cause considerable harm. I’m certain that no matter what decision is made, it comes after thoughtful assessment and thorough conversation.

It’s worth noting that the livelihoods of many tangential employees are at risk — those in hospitality, travel, catering, and the long-tail services of the events and conventions industry. It’s been estimated by the Meetings Mean Business Coalition (MMBC) that meetings and events contribute to 1.1 million jobs in the United States alone. How do our decisions affect their well-being?

At Freeman, we are working closely with our clients and other industry experts to help them evaluate the merits of hosting or cancelling an event given the information at hand. We have equipped our people with best practices to keep participants and events safe and shared this with our clients.

We also hosted a webinar on March 5 with a panel of industry experts including representatives from the U.S. Travel Association to discuss best practices for business continuity. We discussed various scenarios to determine if an organization’s event is impacted — as well as what factors their leadership should evaluate when accessing those risks. To view a replay of that webinar and more, please visit our Coronavirus resource page.

It’s time for a healthy conversation.

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