COVID-19, a novel strain of the coronavirus, is impacting nearly every aspect of life for people around the world. For event managers, this may be the most significant disruption they have ever faced. What may be the most challenging aspect is the fact that the situation continues to evolve daily. What initially looked like a cause for lower attendance and some postponed events has turned into full-scale cancellations and uncertainty as to when things will return to normal. Fortunately, in some cases, the rise of new technology is allowing events to continue through online experiences. However, in other cases, online participation isn’t a viable option.
As news began to spread about COVID-19, many event planners were already making difficult decisions and postponing or canceling events. The Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival was one of the first to announce a postponement, along with the South by Southwest Conference and Festivals in Austin, Texas, which was canceled.
As many event planners continued to deliberate, the decision was taken out of their hands by many communities. Some cities and states either banned or strongly recommended against large gatherings. At this point, it is hard to find any large crowds in the United States.
While some events, like Coachella, were able to reschedule quickly, many others had no choice to cancel. Uncertainty about when this time of social distancing would be over and the challenge of finding availability at large venues have led many organizers to cancel. Others have postponed events but not offered a reschedule date leaving some to wonder if they will eventually be canceled.
Some event planners have been able to take advantage of the latest innovations in communication technology to take their events online rather than cancel. More events are beginning to offer “online-only” registration for people who want to be able to see and hear keynote speakers without the cost of travel and lodging. For events that are already technology-heavy, the move to online was an obvious step. Microsoft’s developer event, Build, was scheduled for May 19-21 in Seattle with a planned attendance of 5000. The organizers were quickly able to move the entire event online.
While this was an excellent option for Microsoft, online events will not work in every case. First of all, not every organizer has experience with or access to the tools needed. Second, not every event lends itself to an online experience. This is especially true with music and art festivals. Nearly any event will lose some of the experience by moving online. However, this is a unique situation, and event organizers will need to do the best they can with what they have.
A quick scan of the websites of event companies like IQPC or event promoters like UNATION shows examples of cancellations and moves to online only. It is also apparent that some event managers are hoping that things will go on as planned or are just waiting until the last minutes to make a decision.
One thing is for sure: this is a challenging time for event managers. There is a lot of uncertainty. However, challenges like this often lead to creativity and innovation, and we will likely see some new ideas take hold in the industry once this latest crisis is behind us.