Already at the turn of the year, Chinese authorities had informed the World Health Organization (WHO) of a cluster of unexplained cases of pneumonia. Shortly afterwards the pathogen responsible for this outbreak could be identified as a new type of coronavirus. Due to its similarity to the SARS virus, it was given the name SARS-CoV-2. The disease caused by the virus is called Covid-19. The number of infected people is steadily increasing around the globe. In Germany, Austria and Switzerland events with more than 1,000 participants were cancelled very quickly.
On 17 March 2020 the German government imposed an extensive shutdown in order to contain the spread of the virus. This decision has yet to be implemented in the German federal states and their local communities. Many federal states have already banned events completely. In most of the remaining states even smaller events from 50 to 100 people are no longer permitted. Austria and some cantons of Switzerland have also opted for a complete ban. In addition, both speakers and visitors refrain from participating in future events or are encouraged to do so by their employers. All in all, the situation is difficult to assess. The event-related regulations the German government has imposed are only valid until the end of April. To make matters worse, event organizers are faced with numerous unresolved liability issues. Even for the most hygienic event, which relies on disinfection and alternative greeting formats, there is no guarantee. Therefore, the most important thing is to take the situation seriously without falling into a panic.
The event industry has been particularly affected by the situation. The virus has hit our industry hard and it will need a long time to recover from the consequences. The good thing is: We are not alone – you are not alone! We are all in this together.
On 13 March 2020 the German organization “Interessengemeinschaft Veranstaltungswirtschaft (IGVW)“ issued an encouraging statement that includes the following sentences:
Tough times call for new ideas. What we need now is determination, inner strength and the willingness to face this crisis. Our industry is known to be flexible.
We will deal with the coronavirus in the same way: We want to use the new vacuum creatively and effectively and work on alternative concepts for your and our own events. Over the next few weeks, we will present you with recommendations, share our experiences (including, but not exclusively, virtual events) and try to come up with ideas that have probably not existed before. In a spirit of partnership and positive cooperation, we are now looking for solutions together with you - our customers, friends and partners.
In times of Covid-19 the advantages of digitalization are obvious. Digitalizing events is no easy task, but it can be a long-term solution that outlasts the crisis itself. Organizers are already relying on live streaming. The most recent example: last week James Blunt played his first "ghost concert" in the empty Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg. Due to the coronavirus none of the 2.100 spectators were allowed in, but between 7,000 and 21,000 streamed the concert live. So perhaps the forced digitalization of the industry will herald a new beginning? Perhaps we need to find ways to organize community feelings and experiences differently?
Event-specific sources, legal information and recommendations can be found here:
If you would like to find out more about the mood in society and the event industry, social media - especially Twitter - can be of interest to you. Just look for #FlattenTheCurve, #Covid_19, #Eventprofs and #Eventprofsunite.
In such a difficult situation, regular and above all open communication with guests, partners and employees is crucial for event organizers. Unfortunately, no one can say exactly how the situation will develop in the coming weeks and months, so go through any scenarios you can think of now. In the latest episode of the German podcast published by MICE Innovation Sessions, crisis manager Steff Berger recommends the FORDEC method – a model of structured decision-making used by NASA. As long as there is no government order regarding your event size or time frame, go through all your options including postponing, canceling and executing your event.
F – Facts: What are the facts? Don’t try to interpret or evaluate the situation. Only those who know their location will reach their destination.
O – Options: After you have written down all the information, think about your possibilities. Don’t limit yourself to the obvious ones.
R – Risks and Benefits: Provide each option with two arrows. Below the left arrow write down the dangers, risks and disadvantages. Below the right arrow add all advantages and opportunities. Then compare the risk/reward ratio. This method provides an overview and prevents risks from being overestimated and opportunities from being overlooked.
D – Decision: Now you have all the information you need. It’s time to make your decision. Remember that brooding leads to valuable time passing without you making any progress.
E – Execution: Your task now is to take prompt action. You know what to do - get started!
C – Check: FORDEC is not about closing your eyes and hoping for the best. Check regularly whether you are still on course and whether the measures you have taken are effective or whether they need to be corrected.
But no matter what the decision is, communicating with existing and new customers and partners and dealing with fear is not easy. Here are five recommendations for you:
Do not play down the situation. Communicate appropriately, sincerely, clearly and objectively and make clear what you do not (yet) know.
Your XING Events Team
The development of the situation is very dynamic. Assessments of experts and authorities change daily. This means you must think dynamically as well. We are all going through an emotional phase - but communication should not be neglected. Take the emotions of your partners, sponsors and customers seriously and address them openly. Admit ignorance and uncertainty to yourself and to others. Maybe this difficult time forces us to deal with things we’ve long put off or helps us to develop new solutions. Maybe the crisis will make us and the event industry even stronger in the end. If we let it.