Resources and Tips for Event Planners During COVID-19

If you work in the travel industry, there is no need for an introduction when it comes to COVID-19. 

Aside from the threat to the health of our loved ones and to ourselves, many of us have also been dealing with the economic and social implications of the pandemic. If you are an event manager or organizer, you may be finding yourself in an acutely difficult position, as you continue to wonder whether or not you should postpone or cancel an upcoming event, or wonder what you should be communicating to your guests.

We cannot predict the future, nor will we try. However, during this time of need, we can offer some helpful tools and resources that may be of use to those who are connected to an event and are finding themselves unsure of what to say or what to do. Here is a list of some of the resources that many in the community have been finding helpful during the crisis. 

How to manage emotional disappointment related to an event cancellation 

Before we dive into the concrete resources that are available, it is important to recognize the emotional impact of event cancellations. The disappointment that comes along with changing plans can be so strong that it can be tempting to continue as if business was like usual. However, it is the current recommendation of the CDC (as of 3/15/20) that no events of more than 10 individuals be held in the next 15 days. Events in this context can include, but are not limited to music festivals, conferences, assemblies, and sports games. Personal events such as weddings or shower events are also included under this umbrella. 

Understandably, the abrupt cancellation of your event, whether you are the professional organizer of a major festival or a bride or groom planning wedding celebrations, can cause emotional distress not only for the event organizer but also for attendees. While there is no way to make these emotions evaporate, there are some comforting thoughts that you and your guests can hold on to, including: 

Don’t cancel — postpone. Canceling a gathering, especially if it’s celebratory in nature, is difficult not only logistically but also emotionally. Instead of calling off your event, consider pushing it back to a time in the future, when it will be safer to get together. It will be much easier for you and your guests to enjoy yourselves when you do not have to worry about the spread of the virus. 

If you have organized bus transportation for your event, has made it possible to make modifications to your booking up to seven days before departure. This means that you can keep up with the news and gauge your event’s feasibility as the global situation unfolds.  

Consider other options. In this day and age more than ever, we have access to amazing digital tools that offer the next-best-thing to an in-person gathering. Long gone are the days of laggy webcam captures and choppy audio quality — now thanks to tools like Zoom and Slack managing a large team is easier than ever. The same thing goes for major events or conferences. Some of the major in-person events that have been taken offline include Salesforce Connections, Microsoft Build, and Collision Conference. If your event is time-sensitive and cannot be postponed, an online experience may be the best option for you. 

Remember that it’s for the best. Canceling your own event or having an event that you were anticipating attending cancelled may feel like a drastic action, but it’s possible to keep in mind that it is currently for the greater good. Health officials around the world have been clear about the importance of social distancing in preventing the spread of COVID-19 and in turn the effects on the health system. By holding off on your event, you are doing your part to protect your community  — especially those around you who are vulnerable. 

For couples who have canceled or postponed weddings

Know you’re not alone. We may not be in high wedding season just yet, but if you have found yourself needing to cancel your wedding, you are certainly not alone. Online support groups for brides and grooms who have had to cancel their weddings have been popping up on all different forms of social media, and may be worth checking out if you would like to talk to others who know what you’re going through. 

If your wedding event’s future is uncertain, blogging experts such as the Savvy Bride and the Knot have information on making a contingency plan for your wedding. 

For coaches who have canceled or postponed sporting events

Maintain team morale. It is disappointing for athletes to train for months or years only to have an event canceled or postponed. Major events that have been affected by COVID-19 include the 2020 NCAA tournament, the NHL season, and the Masters Tournament. If you are the coach of a sports team that is made up of young athletes, it is important to do your best to keep their morale as high as possible by keeping in touch with your team and checking in on one another. It may also be helpful to inspire aspiring athletes by showing them how professional athletes are also canceling their team events. You can find the NBA’s official statement here and the NHL’s official statement here.

For corporations and conference organizers who have canceled or postponed events 

Be a leader in your community. This is not an easy time for corporate organizers. With your position of power comes a heightened sense of responsibility, as it is possible that many smaller events around you may be watching your moves and acting accordingly. The Professional Convention Management Association has some great information regarding COVID-19 that is particular to corporate event organizers. The Government of Canada also has information on risk-informed decision-making for event organizers during the pandemic. 

For festival organizers during COVID-19 

Communication is key. In order to retain the trust of your fans in this time of uncertainty, it is important that they be kept in the loop. Of course, this can be hard to do if organizers themselves are unsure of what their next steps will be. Nonetheless, it is more important than ever to be transparent with your ticket-holders (or prospective ticket buyers) about what changes you are enacting and why. 

Consider a relief event. Although we cannot predict when, pandemics do end. We can look back on past crises in order to better understand what the road ahead likes like, to an extent. For example, after the 2003 SARS crisis hit Toronto, Canada, a relief concert was held in July 2003 to help victims of the disease and their families. If you are in the position to do so, consider putting your event planning expertise to good use by planning a future event to support those whose lives have been negatively affected by COVID-19. 

Resources for event organizers include materials published on EventBrite, the Drum, and CME EXPO

Tips for occurring events

If you are continuing with your event, the CDC has put together a helpful list of measures to take and things to consider. Here is a lowdown of some of the most important ones: 

Prepare your staff with proper disinfectant equipment. With heavy media coverage, it can be hard to identify which supplies are helpful to prevent the transmission of COVID-19. Approved products include sanitizer with a high alcohol content as well as hand soap. A full list of recommended products from the EPA can be found here

Prepare for the absence of staff. The CDC notes the importance of staff involvement being reduced to only essential personnel, in order to lower the risk of disease transmission. 

Consult community resources and stakeholders. Even if consulting public health officials is not normally part of your event-planning routine, now is the time to loop them in and listen to their recommendations. They will be able to help you determine whether or not your event should continue, and to target which best practices should be put into place. 

Together, we can help prevent the community spread of COVID-19. Here’s to a future beyond COVID-19 that is filled with informative conferences, fun festivals, and celebratory life events.