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Tough Decisions: Criteria for Event Cancellations

Two months ago, it looked as if everyone was going to be attending in-person events within the coming six months. Now, we’re back to the familiar unpredictability we experienced at the height of the pandemic.

It’s wearing, isn’t it?

The Decision to Cancel – Again

Across the country and around the globe, events are being postponed and canceled – again.

These decisions are not made lightly; in many cases, the scheduled events for this summer and fall were months in the planning, and the decisions to cancel are being made in the last moments before the events are slated to begin.

The combination of factors – the rapid spread of the Delta variant, the location of the events (some states have significantly increasing numbers of cases), and the legal liability surrounding going forward with the events – has forced these cancellations for a second year in a row.

We’re Not Through Yet

Legal and medical experts are being forced to analyze scenarios for the potential risk to the attendees of live events. Many are using a bell-curve analysis based on the spread of the Delta variant. By looking at December 2020, comparing that time period to January-February 2021, they concluded that we haven’t peaked yet in terms of the risk – and likely won’t until the end of September or early October.

Canceling Can Be the Right Choice

I’m hearing stories of cancellations from colleagues around the country. In some areas, or with outdoor events, they’ve been able to press forward. But the overall risk, the variations in mask and vaccine requirements from state to state, and the sheer numbers of cases are making it nearly impossible to predict when and where things will ever get back to “normal” or what that will look like.

I’m sure that, over time, we will be able resume in-person meetings and events, but the considerations we will be forced to make regarding those meetings will all start with one crucial element: safety. It’s the same consideration that forced us to cancel our event in Texas. Safety must be the first thought.

Getting Together in Person

The Northstar Meetings Group released their First-Look Research report, which contains some of the factors we will need to consider as we decide the safety of meeting in person. As you’ll see from their graph, venue choice is going to be a huge consideration when determining the ability to meet in person. Safety measures, including cleaning protocols, availability of outdoor event spaces, enhanced indoor filtration, and heightened cleaning protocols, are the most significant factors.

The Majority of Event Planners Say Health and Safety Is Now a Significant Factor

Of the people surveyed for the First-Look Research report, 69% of them indicate that health and safety is now a significant factor in their decision-making process. In addition to choosing venues that meet the right criteria, most event planners will be providing hand sanitizer and masks for the next 12-18 months. Changes in policy, such as refundable registration fees in case of cancellation, are also being built into the plans. And most of us are incorporating better technology to avoid things like large crowds at registration. While many event planners are wary of imposing too many restrictions on attendees, they may be bound by local and state governance that will require them to incorporate COVID-19 testing or vaccine verifications.

Managing Risk

In addition to the many health and safety precautions event planners will be taking, according to this chart from Northstar Meetings Group’s report, risk management is now an essential consideration.

From additional security and liability waivers to having a crisis communication plan in place prior to the event, planners are being forced to consider worst-case scenarios as they plan for in-person meetings and events.

COVID-19 Is Not Going Away

According to the most recent science, COVID-19 is not likely to go away. Variants will continue to develop, and many of us will choose to get an annual vaccine, similar to how we manage the flu. As we learn to live with COVID-19, health and safety will simply become a part of planning. Keeping attendees safe has always been an important factor; the criteria of what is measured is that which is changing. But prioritizing those health and safety factors – and cancelling when those criteria can’t be met – is what will make attendees feel safe enough to return when the time is right.

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