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Coronavirus: event organisers exercise ‘extreme caution’

Conference owners are cancelling, or relocating, events in China as one professional congress organiser (PCO) said clients were exercising ‘extreme caution’ over the coronavirus outbreak.

Mathias Posch, owner of Tokyo-based ICS Conferences and president of the International Association of Professional Congress Organisers, said several client events had been hit.

One event in Asia Pacific was ‘almost certain to be cancelled’, while another in China was ‘likely to be relocated elsewhere’, while a third in the APAC region was expected to be ‘delayed’.

He said the 2003 SARS outbreak was front of mind in the region and people were ‘trying to be more pro-active’ this time round.

“There is an extreme caution and most of our clients are worried about a worsening of the situation or at least the perception of a worsening,” he said. “Our North American and European conference clients are more relaxed overall but fear some lower attendee numbers from Asia.”

Mathias Posch

Posch added: “Most of our other conferences have voiced concerns regarding reduced attendance from China and we are looking at ways to mitigate this, through virtual solutions.”

Senthil Gopinath, CEO, the International Congress and Convention Association, sounded a note of unity and defiance.

On behalf of the ICCA board of directors we would like to express the solidarity and support of the global meetings industry community with our members, their staff and families in Wuhan and all others affected by this outbreak globally. We are in touch with our local members affected and will help wherever we can. I urge the ICCA family to extend all support to colleagues, the people of China and in particular in Wuhan and our six members there. Let’s stay strong and confident.”

The destination management company Destination Asia, which organises meeting packages for groups right across the region, has advised its clients to ‘reconsider all non-essential travel to China until the end of February’.

“We will provide regular updates to assist with making decisions for trips arriving in March 2020 and beyond. Travel to other destinations in Asia remains unaffected,” the company added in a statement.

The viral outbreak that originated in Wuhan has now spread to the whole of mainline China and at least four continents, including North America, Europe and Australia. More than 9,100 people have been diagnosed with the virus with all fatalities, more than 213, in China.

The World Health Organisation has declared the outbreak a global emergency.

The Chicago, US-based Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA) has issued advice to its members about how they should handle the outbreak and a list of trustworthy sources.

Meanwhile a UN meeting to further efforts to protect the world’s biodiversity due to take place in the city of Kunming, in the Yunnan province, 24-29 February, has been moved to Rome, Italy.

Hundreds of biodiversity experts from across the world were due to attend a Working Group on the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework, a preparatory event to the UN Biodiversity Conference in October, which is also due to be held in Kunming.

Calvert, CEO of the Events Industry Council, called on members and industry advocates to remain informed and prepared, and to consider the health of the industry as well as traveler safety.

“While none of us can be certain of the impact of the current coronavirus outbreak, we know how deeply this type of challenge can alter lives and economies of the regions directly involved, as well as those that feel its ripple effect,” she said in a statement.

“We want to offer our support and leadership during these challenging times, and ensure decisions regarding hosting events, travel and face-to-face interactions are made from a fully informed space.

“In the short term, should your plans find you in a position that necessitates change, consider postponement of your event while finding opportunities to support at-risk communities,” Calvert continued. “Acknowledge that the current situation is temporary and make a firm commitment to return. Continue to be what we have always been — advocates for transparent and ethical decisions based on facts and necessity. Use your internal and external resources to implement a communications strategy to your stakeholders, then share those learnings and outcomes to help your peers and colleagues. To our friends and colleagues in China and other affected areas, we send our heartfelt concern and support. We are ready and available to coalesce information and communication channels to share what you need now, and what you will need for future recovery.”