Industry insiders agree that the Coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic has changed the meetings and conventions industry irrevocably. They say once shelter-at-home orders are rescinded, things will not go back to normal because we will be faced with a new normal.
An example is The Voice of Healthcare Summit, which takes place annually at Harvard Medical School, focused on the role of voice tech and conversational AI in evolving modern healthcare. This year’s conference, scheduled for August 5-6, 2020, has implemented specific concessions that provided Summit producer Bradley Metrock, CEO of Score Publishing, a company that produces not just print and digital content, but podcasts and live events as well, with mixed reactions. Will this be the new normal?
“No matter what, health and safety are paramount,” said Metrock. “By now, we are all experiencing death by webinar as we human beings are purposefully made for interacting with others. By making these concessions, people are going to get some meaningful interactions.”
Waivers – Everyone on site: employees, attendees, exhibitors, sponsors, volunteers, media, and partners, will be required to sign a waiver stating that they are attending at their own risk and that neither the venue, the organizer nor any other attendees are responsible if they get sick with coronavirus or anything else around the time of the conference.
Separate Registration and Medical Area – A separate nearby area at the conference site will be used for registration, outside of a medical room to be used for testing and evaluation of those who show symptoms while at the event. The registration will not be in front of the conference room, like in the past. It will be nearby, but some distance away.
COVID-19 Testing – In the registration area, every single person attending the conference must be tested for coronavirus before participating in/attending the conference. Testing will be executed by a certified, licensed, and approved third-party medical organization, and all records will be destroyed immediately. Non-compliance will result in attendees being ejected from the premises.
This COVID-19 testing is mandatory, says Metrock. “You can tell us Dr. Fauci tested you, but you will still have to be tested again,” he says.
Mandatory Testing for Fever Each Additional Day of Conferences – Upon the start of each day, each incoming attendee will be tested for fever via a thermometer placed on their forehead. Attendees exhibiting abnormal temperatures or other symptoms will be asked to go to the medical room for further evaluation.
Antibody Testing – If available, optional anti-body testing for COVID -19 will be conducted on-site. This will enable conference attendees to have greater freedom of movement. Attendees who already possess a valid immunity certification would be exempt from COVID-19 testing as well as other requirements. Registered attendees who are certified as immune will receive a special badge making it evident to all other attendees they possess a valid immunity certificate.
Masks – Masks will be provided and must be worn at all times inside the conference venue. If desired, attendees can wear their own masks.
Social Distancing – Extra distance will be placed between exhibitor tables, and an empty seat will be maintained between conference attendees. These measures will be implemented at The Voice of Healthcare Summit at Harvard Medical, including a maximum attendee capacity of 200 conference participants in total.
Cancellations – Score’s cancellation policy has been modified from the “no refunds ever” to a full refund if an event is canceled. If a cancellation is caused by a third-party, credit will be given for a future event.
Giveaways – Promotional items are prohibited, although printed material is OK.
Food – No food will be served during these conferences.
Virtual Components of Events – All events will include a virtual component, a separate, standalone event with separate registration.
The reaction Metrock got to these new stipulations is mixed, he says. “No matter what, health and safety are paramount,” he explains. “We are all experiencing death by webinar just about now. We are human beings who are purposefully made for interacting with others. By making these concessions, people are going to get some meaningful interactions.”
Metrock predicts that mega-events like the Consumer Electronics Show held in Las Vegas, South by Southwest held in Austin, and The London Book Fair will be most impacted. “We will not be able to have events of this size anymore without jeopardizing people’s health, life, and safety,” says Metrock. “I predict the small to mid-size events prior to COVID-19 will become the mega-events of the future.”
The events that do come back are going to look much different. Metrock says they will be not only more expensive to orchestrate but more expensive to attend. “Meetings were something we took for granted, but no longer. Going forward, they are going to a premium experience,” he says.
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