COVID-19: A Meeting Planner’s Perspective


In the numerous 2020 year-ahead predictions made at the start of the year for the thriving events economy, the prospect of mass event cancellations and the postponement of major sporting and music festivals never approached the scene.

Fast-forward 10 weeks into the year, and the impact the Coronavirus (COVID-19) is having on the global meetings industry is undeniable. Steve Jobs, inventor of the iPhone, realized a long time ago the value of face-to-face meetings, even in the digital era we are living in – “There’s a temptation in our networked age to think that ideas can be developed by email and iChat. That’s crazy. Creativity comes from spontaneous meetings, from random discussions.” It turns out that Jobs was onto something. According to a study by Great Business Schools, 84% of people still say they prefer in-person meetings.

As meeting planners, we are always planning for the unknown and trying to mitigate risk, and the unfortunate outbreak of the coronavirus is no exception. “Our industry is by necessity very adaptable to change and thrives on developing the next approach to a successful meeting,” says Kristina Johnson, Meeting Planner at LEO Events. “We know nothing beats the value of face-to-face, so postponing your event is the best way to ensure you will still receive the full benefit of the meeting,” added Becca Kennamer, LEO Meeting Planner.

From the event agency perspective, postponement effectively sets the industry up to quickly rebound from this pandemic. From the brand standpoint, there is a large cost factor that comes along with canceling an event versus postponing. The last 7 days have been critical as we’ve had clients forced to postpone their events – but the positive takeaway in this is just that. 90% of clients are postponing to avoid losing money with cancelation fees. Postponing also reverts back to the notion that attendees will not have the same experience in a virtual versus face-to-face meeting. Luckily, there are proactive steps that can be taken to postpone your next event, versus having to cancel all together

Assess the Situation

Familiarize yourself with your options. Review all legal documentation. Negotiate with vendors and venue partners to allow for postponement. Determine a date in which the decision needs to be made.

Have a Concise Plan

Establish a clear action plan for the current situation – this may involve postponing, relocating, or keeping the event in place. If the event is moving forward as planned, be prepared with a thorough communications plan to circulate to stakeholders. Implement or update the emergency contingency plan, and train staff accordingly.

Enhance Communications

Communication is key for all parties involved. Your attendees should rest assured that your organization is monitoring COVID-19 and preventative measures are being taken. Even in the case of a postponed event, a “no handshake” policy could be implemented, as well as added on-site measures like sanitizing stations or increased spacing built into room sets to err on the side of caution.

Safeguard Food and Beverage

Ensure all F&B is served by venue staff versus self-serve buffet stations. Coordinate with your catering or F&B provider to ensure careful hygiene when handling and preparing food. Communicate the safeguards the venue is implementing to your attendees before and during your event.