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The fast-spreading coronavirus has prompted a wave of event cancellations as governments across the world rush to adopt new measures such as banning large gatherings of people. Meetings, conferences and other events are either being postponed or cancelled altogether to avoid the risk spreading the virus even further.

In Asia, where the COVID-19 exploded in late January, event cancellations have already cost between $14.2 billion and $25.5 billion to date, Fitch Solutions estimates. Every additional month of cancellations will cost $9 billion to $17 billion, the market analysis firm says.

The loss logic is simple, and it’s hardly limited to Asia anymore. Event cancellations reduce spending in hotels, stores and restaurants, especially when overseas participants cancel their entire trips for an international event, says Taohai Lin, a consumer and retail analyst with Fitch Solutions.

March in Asia normally marks the start of an event season that lasts through mid-year with a dip until it powers up again from September through early December. The Beijing Motor Show in China’s capital was postponed from its original April 21-30 dates and the April 17-19 Grand Prix in China has also been put off.

In music, Green Day, BTS and the Boston Symphony Orchestra cancelled or postponed their 2020 Asia tours initially scheduled for early 2020. In Taiwan, the president halted preparations for her May 2020 inauguration ceremony normally attended by a bevvy of foreign diplomats. Add to these cancellations hundreds of lesser-known, locally organized concerts, film festivals, exhibitions and even outdoor school trips for school children.


“We expect that such cancellations will increase until authorities control the virus situation within their countries,” Lin says.

Parts of Europe and the U.S. states such as Maryland, New York and Washington are stopping events now as the virus spreads. Forbes estimates that 31 million attendees have changed plans. The National Basketball Association and Major League Baseball, to name two well-known examples, have both suspended events scheduled in the United States for early 2020.

Companies, organizers averting risk

It’s not just government orders and organizers pulling out. Company rules increasingly bar employees from attending conferences and shows–sometimes all business travel–says Rajiv Biswas, Asia Pacific chief economist with IHS Markit in Singapore. That’s partly because conferences created coronavirus clusters early in the outbreak, he says. Expect cancellations in Asia are expected to last through May, Biswas says.“Even if you’re still holding the event, the attendance is much lower,” Biswas says. “Attendees are not willing to attend, or their companies will not allow it. No business travel is becoming the standard.”

If someone got the coronavirus at an event, “that could be horrible for your brand,” says David Frazier, founder and program director with the Urban Nomad music and film festivals in Taiwan. An April film festival has been postponed to an unannounced date.

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Singapore, Thailand the worst hit?

Singapore and Thailand will be especially hard hit because they depend largely on tourism including events that bring in people from abroad, Biswas says. The Singapore meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions industry totaled $1.59 billion or 22% of tourist receipts in 2018, according to IHS Markit data. Revenue for the sector in Thailand reached $6.65 billion in 2018, half from overseas. Across the Asia Pacific, the sector is worth an estimated $200 billion.

From 10% to 20% of the tourism industries from these two countries will disappear and some operators will see close to no events this quarter, the IHS Markit analyst says. That loss, he notes, follows the “collapse” of Chinese tourism from late January when other countries started banning flights. The virus originated in China.

Repopulating the calendar

Asian countries can help their event sectors in the longer term by proving they can manage the risk of the virus spreading further. Singapore and China, which have slowed the growth of their confirmed caseloads, should “see gradual easing” of cancellations, Lin forecasts.

The Singapore Airshow, for example, was allowed to continue as scheduled in February, but with a cut in attendance, a system in place for any post-show contact tracing and stronger sanitation.

A controlled caseload in Vietnam will help the country rebound as a destination, for events or otherwise, after the coronavirus passes, says Ralf Matthaes, founder of the Infocus Mekong Research consultancy in Ho Chi Minh City. The country had reported a relatively low 61 cases as of March 17, but its first Grand Prix was postponed from the original April 2-3 dates. “If Vietnam is able to truly deal with the virus and contain it, it will be a huge boost to Vietnam’s reputation as an emerging player that can actually control health issues,” Matthaes says.