William Beutler

The conference industry was one of the first to feel the effects of the coronavirus-driven lockdowns. From March onward, virtually every large public gathering was canceled or postponed, from major events like SXSW and Comic-Con to the thousands of trade, academic, association, and hobbyist meetings that represent the long tail of the multi-billion dollar events industry.

No one knows what will happen when these conferences are allowed to resume. How much of the original event plans are still viable? How many attendees will actually show up? What sort of precautionary measures will be required by new health and safety regulations? And what happens if there's another surge of infections? If a cluster is traced to a specific event, the fallout could be ruinous.

Interested to learn more about what might happen in the near future—especially as a semi-frequent conference-goer myself—I sought out several industry professionals to find out what they are seeing and hearing these days. Not to put too fine a point on it, all agree things are very bad. "Ask anyone who works in this industry," says Dallas-based meeting planner Nann Philips, who runs Scurry Street Meeting Management, "and they'll tell you it's pretty dismal right now."

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