Germany is carrying out one of the largest research projects on how the coronavirus spreads. The provisional results discuss the role of events on spreading the virus and depict what the next six to nine months will look like.
Professor Hendrick Streeck has been tasked by the local government of one of the worst infected areas of Germany to conduct a study of how Covid-19 spreads. The study takes place in the Heinsberg district with an isolated sample of 1,000 individuals.
While most of the studies out there rely on very limited information, this aims to be one of the go-to analyses on the virus’ spread. The study is performing several checks that look in detail at how subjects get infected, performing throat swabs, conducting antibodies tests, tracking movements, and analyzing pre-conditions.
The preliminary results have been discussed in an interview with the Frankfurter Allgemeine, and there is good and bad news.
The good news is that there is no evidence that the virus spreads from activities like going to the grocery store or dining out at restaurants. If confirmed, this could mean that we could go back to life as we know it and countries could implement less restrictive lockdowns.
The bad news is one that has to do with events.
The research uncovered how large events are at the core of how the virus spread. The Atalanta-Valencia soccer match, the Cologne Carnival. In the U.S., Mardi Gras in New Orleans and the whole of spring break in Florida are currently viewed as super-spreading events.
Masses of people in prolonged contact seem to be the obvious conduits for the virus’ spread.
Of course, this research is still underway and we have no official conclusions. With events being notably the first sector being wiped out by this atrocious virus, it is fair to start anticipating some of the measures different countries will take, based on research and common sense.
The Future is Small
All the factors are pointing in one direction: Scientists and countries around the world are starting to adopt a narrative that warns of how things will not go back to normal immediately.
As an industry, we have to start computing what that means for us.
When a second phase of the virus kicks in, large meetings will still be banned by most countries. Sporting events, but also large trade shows, will struggle to be accepted unless a vaccine materializes or other major game-changing event happens.
Even as we look towards the first lockdowns being lifted, it makes sense to hypothesize a world where large meetings will still be difficult to implement.
Some of the elements contributing to this scenario:
- It’s likely that international travel will still adopt quarantine measures, making it impossible to attend two or three-day events.
- That could also be the case for national travel from/to impacted areas.
- Antibody testing seems a way out, but enforcing checks at events seems logistically impossible to say the least.
It doesn’t mean that the industry is doomed.
Small, local meetings will be the way the event industry will start to build its comeback.
The characteristics of these meetings could be imagined as follows:
- Small in size. It is impossible to forecast numbers. Even during the scariest phase of the outbreak, different countries implemented different bans to meeting sizes: 1,000, 500, 250, 50, 10. Difficult to say.
- Local. A perception of safety will be key to implementing events in the short term immediately after lockdowns. Hosting events with no travel involved, where attendees come from the same geographic area will be perceived as safe. Think internal meetings, small workshops, seminars.
- Short. What the Heinsberg research highlights is that prolonged times exposed to those with the virus are conducive to contagion. We don’t know yet for how long, but it is key to understand that, as this information becomes available, the industry will need to adapt a containment strategy.
What does that mean for event professionals?
Should the elements of this research be confirmed, we can safely start elaborating some strategies. This research cannot damage our business (more than it already is), but conversely, it can quickly project us to a position of opportunity as the lockdown measures are lifted.
Despite the grim news, we know that Italy and Spain are already discussing phase two within the next two weeks, and the US may follow suit soon enough, thanks to a combination of a contagion peak that seems near and a strong government push to go back to normal.
In essence, it makes sense to get ready for a new reality that may materialize within the next month and last for 6 to 9 months.
Continue to use digital.We have been the first in the industry to strongly advocate the pivot to virtual. While some were still trying to save the unsavable, we forecasted that virtual would be the only viable way to keep business going as early as March 3 – which now seems like a few years ago. Keep investing in webinars and virtual events to keep the conversation with attendees and sponsors going.
Start thinking about a local strategy.Think global, act local – the international marketing motto of the ‘90s will be the go-to strategy for the short term. Large events will need to start evaluating a granular, local-based strategy that happens through meetups or small gatherings. In this perspective, the digital platforms that support small meetings will thrive.
Go from micro to macro.Digital will still play an important role in bringing smaller events together in a coordinated effort. Think coordinated events happening all over the world connected by technology and sharing a common spirit. Elevating the small meeting to a global meaning will be your main task for the remainder of 2020.
Get ready to employ social media in a key role of your events strategy.When Twitter appeared in 2008/2009, we were among the first to recognize the power of hashtags to put delocalized events under one roof. It turned out this was the largest combination of social media and events during the financial crisis, where travel was limited by the recession. Social media will once again play a key role in connecting local communities on a global scale.
Some of the most used words of the past two months include “unprecedented,” “unchartered waters” and “the new normal.” The latter is the one we need to focus on to keep things going.
An industry that is struggling to the core needs to pause and start evaluating what is next.
Research seems to point at large meetings suffering in the short term. There is no harm in starting to evaluate a strategy that could safeguard the business of small and large events alike in a post-lockdown era.
On our end, we will keep informing you with hard facts and research on what is next.