Meeting Mentor Magazine

October 2020

Insiders’ Guide to Event Coronavirus Precautions

After having innumerable conversations over the past few weeks with clients concerned about the effects the coronavirus potentially could have on their events, Peter Green, CMP, senior vice president/team director, ConferenceDirect, decided to consolidate efforts by holding a conference call to share up-to-date information with his clients and to give them a platform to share their experiences, challenges and, most importantly, ways to cope with today’s sadly common dilemma: Whether or not to cancel or postpone their upcoming events.

On the call, Jerry Horan, president, ConferenceDirect, said the question he’s hearing most often now is what would bring the coronavirus to the level that would trigger a force majeure clause and allow the event organizer to cancel without liability. There are a few cases where a state or local government issues an ordinance or directive precluding mass gatherings, such as the city of Austin, Texas, disallowing any gatherings of more than 2,500 people, forcing the organizers of South by Southwest to cancel its 400,000-person event. Another force majeure trigger would be if the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or World Health Organization were to issue directives banning travel, he said.

Consult with your individual legal counsel to be sure, but generally speaking, at this point in time, most event organizers will not be able to successfully invoke force majeure when canceling an event due to coronavirus concerns — and most hotel companies are enforcing full cancellation penalties. Green added that planners are much more likely to have success if they try to mitigate attrition and performance measures, such as food and beverage (F&B) minimums, if they anticipate that a sizable number of attendees will decide not to travel to the meeting or are banned by their employers from traveling at this time. “That all affects the numbers across the board and provides a rationale for reducing or eliminating attrition and food and beverage minimums,” he said.

Among the information and resources Green shared included the following considerations of what to do if you do decide to proceed with an event. While the list is not exhaustive or all-inclusive, it represents best practices he collected from his clients and from brainstorming with other CD associates, Green said.

Some things to consider if you decide to go ahead with the event as planned: 

Communications

• Place an official statement on your website about what decision has been made or if you are still monitoring the situation and will make a decision as the situation becomes clearer — and keep the website updated with the most current information available. One example of a good statement can be found on TESOL.org. https://www.tesol.org/news-landing-page/2020/03/05/latest-response-to-the-coronavirus

• Point people to the organization’s website in all other communications, using language such as, “Safety and health are our primary concerns. Please go to XXXXXXX.org for the most updated information.”

• Remind attendees not to travel if they do not feel well.

• Initiate a “no hugs, no kissing, no handshakes” policy for events held during this time.

• Ensure that you have attendees’ current contact information: cellphone, text, email and mailing address for purposes of communicating with attendees pre-event, on-site and post-event. Keep in mind that you can also use the event app to disseminate important information to attendees.

• Log the name, date, time, phone number and email address of anyone who becomes ill at the event so you can both check back in a few weeks to ensure their well-being and to be able to ask them who they interacted with at the event. One client who had someone report coming down with COVID-19 once they returned home from the event said they were able to confirm who had direct contact with this individual so the organizers could inform them of what measures they should take.

• Notify attendees of safe health practices at the registration desk; on the back side of badges; as a flyer, postcard or handout that can be folded or placed into the back of badges; in additional signage; and verbally communicated as part of speakers’ housekeeping notes.

Venue Considerations

• Renegotiate and document requests related to attrition, performance, reservation cancellation fees and F&B minimums contracted.

• Require the hotel to outline in writing the additional measures that have been put in place that are new in comparison to the standard operating procedures it was previously practicing. Review and confirm these procedures with the hotel again during the precon. Some measures could include:
– In-room plastic bags that guests can use to cover remote controls
– Masks for attendees who might feel compromised
– Setting water temperatures to provide warmer water for handwashing, and ensuring that the soap being used at the hotel or convention center is proven as an effective disinfectant
– Wiping down and sterilizing or cleaning with appropriate disinfectant any surfaces attendees frequently touch, including doorknobs, chair tops, elevator buttons, escalator railings, bathroom doors, garbage can and recycling bin openings and lids, bathroom vanity tops, bathroom faucets, toilet flush levers, paper towel holders, and changing tables.

• Mandate that all hotel banquet servers wear gloves at all food-service functions.

• Rethink meeting room sets to provide more social distancing:
– Set two per six-foot versus three per six-foot
– Set 60-inch rounds with six or seven chairs versus eight or more
– Set 66-inch rounds with no more than seven to eight chairs
– Set 72-inch rounds with no more than seven to eight chairs
– If setting theater-style, allow extra space between chairs versus having all chairs butt up against each other

Other On-Site Precautions
– Consider only offering packaged and wrapped food items for breaks.
– Offer disposable gloves to attendees who wish to wear them or use them – this even could be a new branding or sponsorship opportunity
– Require staff to wear disposable gloves

“It’s our job to be here for you,” said Green. The fallout from COVID-19 on the meetings industry is constantly changing, he said, and ConferenceDirect is monitoring the situation closely. “We will continue to provide information as soon as we get it.”

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About ConferenceDirect
ConferenceDirect is a global meetings solutions company offering site selection/contract negotiation, conference management, housing & registration services, mobile app technology and strategic meetings management solutions. It provides expertise to 4,400+ associations, corporations, and sporting authorities through our 400+ global associates. www.conferencedirect.com

About MeetingMentor
MeetingMentor, is a business journal for senior meeting planners that is distributed in print and digital editions to the clients, prospects, and associates of ConferenceDirect, which handles over 13,000 worldwide meetings, conventions, and incentives annually. www.meetingmentormag.com

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