Coronavirus threat for meeting planners

The coronavirus is a growing global public health threat that has already spread to 39 countries and infected 80.348 people. The airborne nature of the virus poses a threat anywhere with a large number of people in contained places, such as big meetings and events. Due to its abrupt development, coronavirus has already affected events in Q1 and Q2 of this year and it will affect more to come.

Following the coronavirus outbreak, the events industry has taken heed. Various international events have already been cancelled or relocated and more have been postponed as a result of the epidemic. The virus-affected areas will not be hosting any large events, but also organisers of events in Europe, the United States and Australia have cancelled events as a precaution or due to flight restrictions for Chinese exhibitors and attendees. The World Health Organization has declared coronavirus a global health emergency so it’s no longer enough for event planners to simply take preventative measures and prepare for the virus. It is imperative to actively assess the risks and stay informed about new developments to be able to deal with possible event scenarios resulting from the outbreak.

It is imperative to actively assess the risks and stay informed about new developments.

As a meeting planner, you should critically assess the situation and take safety precautions if you have a mass event coming up. The coronavirus threat is serious, but cancelling is not the only option. The decision whether to proceed with the event or to restrict, modify, postpone or cancel it should be based on a thorough risk assessment. Following, we provide some guidelines and different scenarios for proceeding with the planned event.


Virtual meetings are a great alternative in a scenario where traveling is difficult, and a large group of people meeting is problematic. Switching from an actual event to an online experience takes some planning and adjusting, but if the organisers can manage the technical difficulties, virtual meetings or conferences will allow the event to take place without risking anyone’s wellbeing in the process.


When the event was planned in a now at-risk area, the alternative to cancellation is relocating to a destination with little to no perceived risk. This endeavour is not uncomplicated and comes with a multitude of logistical issues. Many things in terms of flights, hotel accommodations, local transportation, and venue coordination will have to be rethought. A worthy consideration is also partnering up with venues and suppliers, who are aware of the safety guidelines surrounding the virus and are prepared to follow them.


In the case it would not be reasonable to cancel or relocate the event, certain health precautions should be taken. Local medical facilities can provide guidelines and answers as to what to do and how to prepare. As human-to-human transmission of the virus is confirmed, it is wise to equip the venue with hand sanitizing stations and masks, as well as include medical supplies and staff on-site. There are also other, more extreme, measures that can be implemented, such as temperature screening or other medical testing, of which attendees should be made aware of beforehand. Communication regarding health safety and risks before and during the event is extremely important to ensure individuals act according to health regulations.

What to do about the coronavirus as a meeting planner

• Review your cancellation insurance policy. Is an outbreak like the coronavirus covered?

• Review how liable your event is in case of contagion.

• If your event is taking place in the next 3 months, think about a livestream offering for those who can’t travel.

• Start thinking about implementing security and safety measures.

• Prepare a crisis communication plan for the occasion of someone becoming infected.

• Stay informed and stay ahead of the developments of the situation.

To conclude, the coronavirus has gone from a few cases in China to a global public health emergency in the span of a few weeks. While most regions of the world are still at relatively low risk, it is important for meeting planners to stay informed and keep tracking the developments of this volatile situation to ensure the safety of their attendees and staff as well as the success of their events.

Sara Tiefengraber