An Industry Divided

The events industry is divided. I am seeing many strongly held opinions over whether or not events should be canceled due to the coronavirus. Those of us who were working in the events industry during the last recession are having déjà vu. We thought another recession might be coming but instead, we are faced with a virus that is creating a similar environment. It feels different this time, though. This is the perspective of a systems thinker and not yet another opinion on whether or not events should be canceled.

Some companies and associations have made the decision to cancel or postpone their events because they feel that it is the safer option for their employees, their members, and the people connected to their stakeholders. They feel we should remove the opportunity for the virus to spread via a large gathering of people or travel. The consequence is they are canceling contracts with their venues, hotels, and other suppliers that should leave them with a large financial liability. The déjà vu is kicking in. In the last recession, companies and associations canceled many meetings and in some cases were able to negotiate out of paying damages to their suppliers. Whether we’re in a “buyers market” or a “sellers market”, the hospitality industry and other event suppliers feel that relationships matter in our industry and they are compelled to “work with” their clients. The question is whether or not they will do the same this time.

This is where it starts to feel a bit different from last time. Now, the hospitality industry is much more organized and has found a unified voice. The largest of the 100+ associations serving the events industry are joining in the chorus because hospitality companies pay their bills. They are concerned that the media has exaggerated the threat of the virus and feel that events should not be canceled. They have shared that people should simply be sensible and wash their hands. They celebrate events that have chosen to proceed. They remind us that it is important to meet face-to-face because that is the value proposition of the entire industry. They also remind us of the economic value this industry provides. This was the talking point that came from the rubble of the last recession and it was thought that it would prevent the damage of groups canceling meetings during the next recession.

Each side cites sources that support their position. In this post-truth era, there isn’t one authoritative source of information that everyone trusts. Instead, we have individuals and organizations shouting their positions hoping to persuade anyone who will listen. In the same way our country (and our world) is divided over many issues, it is happening here because we have lost the ability to listen and change our minds. Have we ever had a mechanism that brings us together to help us understand our impact on others or the system as a whole?

This conversation is only going to intensify and there may not be a right or wrong answer. One conference that decided to cancel acknowledged the fact that the small businesses who attend their trade show rely on making connections with clients at the show. I saw one such client make herself available on LinkedIn so that they could still have some of those conversations. Isn’t that brilliant? It shows the depth and complexity of the situation but also offers hope for creative human-centered solutions. I welcome comments and questions that bring both points of view into the conversation.


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