How is COVID-19 Affecting Associations?

24th Mar, 2020

When the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) first appeared in Wuhan, China, at the end of last year, no one could probably have imagined what consequences this would have. Yet, three months later, European countries declared a lockdown and all not essential activities were suspended to prevent further spread of the virus and protect the population's health, as well as public health systems.

Many events were cancelled or postponed to an unknown date. Even more after the World Health Organization declared the disease a pandemic on the 11th of March.

HQ asked four associations about the impact the pandemic is having on them, and on the destinations they had chosen for their events before the virus put everyone in danger.

SolarPower Europe had to postpone the SolarPower Summit that was supposed to take place on the 25th of March 25 . They still hope that by September the situation will be settled, therefore they have rescheduled the event to the 29th of September, keeping the same destination and venue.

“We took the COVD-19 situation very seriously from an early stage. We prepared a contingency plan for several weeks. Once the decision to postpone the event was finally taken, we didn’t face many challenges because everything was already prepared,” Charlotte Otten, head of events at SolarPower Europe, told HQ.

“Our guests were relieved to have an alternative option. With the new date we might face the challenge of competing with other established events. To overcome this situation, we chose a date with the least competing events, but if the situation continues nothing can prevent that other events might appear at the same time.”

Otten added that, if the situation continues for a long period, companies might have to restrict the event they attend for budgetary reasons. In her opinion, this could lead to less attendance from the corporate side.

In fact, nobody can tell when the isolation will be over and when we will all be able to come back to some sort of normality. Official guidelines fix different ending dates, between the first and the second week of April, but scientific estimates and the Chinese experience show another scenario. We may have to wait much longer than a couple of weeks.

Florence Biddelle, secretary general of European Issuers, described in four words the current struggle: “Fighting with the uncertainty.”

“We do not know if, by the beginning of April, the situation will be better, but events that are

scheduled for March and April were all postponed to June. However, we do not know if June

is a good month to go for.” On the management side, Biddelle added: “Working remotely with a team is a new lesson. How to maintain business like usual, if this situation will last long, remote working platforms shall be invested.”

At this moment, European Issuers don't see the need to change the destination of rescheduled events. Of course, this will depend on the schedule of the event venue, on the virus situation in the destination, and also on the timing of the travellers (because some companies or organizations do not allow employees to go on business trips in Summer).

They have rescheduled a couple of events and, for the ones that can not be postponed, they will do it through conference calls. “It is a challenge to do conference calls and it is more exhausting,” Biddelle said. “Fighting with busy lines, it is harder to communicate through calls without seeing faces, problems of concentration.”

Roma Guziak, communications manager at CECE aisbl, insisted that “meetings are of most importance to guarantee the smooth work and knowledge flow within the organisation”.

The events they had planned up until May have been postponed. “We are currently looking into finding new dates and possibly locations,” Guziak said. “We are also researching into organising live-streamed conferences, which may become necessary if the outbreak will not be contained.”

One of the biggest fears is to waste energy in organising something that won’t eventually take place, like it’s been for this Spring’s events. “We do not want to put our efforts into organising an event that will have to be cancelled later,” Guziak said. “In addition, taking into consideration the financial impact of COVID-19 on our industrial sector, we are already foreseeing members' challenges and restraints regarding travelling & events' participation in the coming months.”

“We plan to monitor this unprecedented situation and come back to face-to-face meetings as soon as it is safe for participants,” Guziak concluded. “Even in this time of digital technologies and social distancing, we still believe in the importance of meeting in person!”

The two that were cancelled by Kenes Group will just skip the year, while the plan is to continue with them in 2021. Magdalina Atanassova, Kenes’ marketing communications manager, agreed uncertainty is the biggest issue.

“We are planning for a future that we have no idea if it will be as we imagine it,” Atanassova said. “On the other hand, we are used to dealing with challenges and in our over 55-year history, we have been through quite a few situations where we had to rely on our quick analysis and creative solutions adapted for all possible scenarios.”

Preserving existing relationships will then be key to survive and to manage the great number of events that will likely need to happen at the same time next Autumn. Being in this together will help us level off, as mutual understanding is going to become essential. Also, medical associations will have a hard work to do.

“We may not be the ones to figure out the cure for this virus, but some of our clients are. So for us, it is important to support them more than ever with their associations and conferences, while they have the time and energy to help all of us with COVID-19,” Atanassova concluded. And she added: “Together we stand.”

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