Takeaways from Jim Louis, CMP, CAE, founder of MeCo and president of Best Meetings Inc.:
- Planners must think rationally, but also look at perception of having a meeting.
- Use WHO’s planning recommendations for mass gatherings as a starting point.
- After that, prepare a series of questions for you venue.
A meeting planner recently reached out to the Meetings Community (MeCo) — an online group of event professionals — for advice regarding an upcoming conference she’s holding in Bellevue, Washington, in mid-April. Due to the ever-changing situation with COVID-19 — at the time of this posting, at least 25 people have died from the virus in Washington state — the planner intended to discuss cancellation options with the hotel. Jim Louis, CMP, CAE, founder of MeCo and president of Best Meetings Inc, offered a list of questions and considerations:
Part of the job as a meeting planner is being the calm in the ocean of chaos that is meetings. Think rationally, but also look at perception of having your meeting — how to be responsible, but respectful of the situation. Read through WHO’s planning recommendations for mass gatherings. Not all quite applicable, but some are.
Questions to Ask the Venue:
- Ask the hotel if the Force Majeure clause would apply in this case. If not, what conditions would qualify for it to happen in relationship to COVID-19 between now and the event?
- Would they work with you on a Modified Risk Assessment as outlined by the WHO 3.2 section of the document linked above?
- What options do they see for the event? The options I see are:
Option 1. Have the meeting with modifications.
- Who will pay for having a local provider of health services for the event?
- Agreeing to regular planning sessions with key personnel
- Is there a local health official who can be in the planning sessions?
- How will the hotel help with messaging to attendees of preventative measures they can take and, if they have symptoms, who to contact?
- How are people isolated if they show symptoms at the hotel?
- How will the hotel help with messaging post-event if there is a COVID-19 case identified from attendees, hotel staff, and other travelers who are at the hotel over the time of the event?
- How is information going to be communicated between all the stakeholders?
- Is the group made up of medical professionals from all across the U.S. or world? What is the risk of transmission and spread of COVID-19?
- Is it realistic to have three feet between each chair in every direction in the meeting rooms?
- Will the hotel provide additional handwashing and hand-sanitation locations?
- No close physical contact.
- Cover your cough.
- No buffets or set out food stations
- If there are any, what cough and sneeze guard shields will be used?
- How is the hotel monitoring their staff for COVID-19? What are their protocols?
- How will the hotel implement infection prevention protocols if COVID-19 is found in the city?
- What concessions would be given if the meeting was to take place?
Option 2. Postpone within the fiscal year for the hotel.
Option 3. Change to a hotel in the chain or ownership group outside of Washington where there are no cases yet?
Option 4. Full cancel, no reschedule.
Option 5. Partial meeting with virtual component. What will the hotel be willing to provide to help virtualize part of the meeting?
Option 6. Cancel face-to-face meeting and go to a full virtual meeting.
Other Questions to Ask:
- What is the local health department saying?
- Who at the hotel will be monitoring the situation?
- If you’re not canceling today, what is the go/no go date for stakeholders?
- What are the conditions that make that happen?
- What outside organizations will make this event not happen? Statements by WHO, CDC, Washington State Department of Health, Mayor, Governor, etc. Who outside the hotel and association can make the call?
- If there is an outbreak in city, does that qualify?
- Travel restrictions on attendees?
4. What concessions would be given if the meeting was to take place?
5. What is the local CVB/DMO saying about COVID-19?
Honestly, no one wants to plan a meeting where an outbreak happens, but on the flip side, how many meetings are happening right now without any cases in areas where there are cases?
PCMA has created a COVID-19 resources page to help event professionals find reliable information about the outbreak and to share events industry-related resources to ensure they are prepared.