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Coronavirus Continues to Disrupt Global Tech Events

Coronavirus or Covid-19 continues to wreak havoc in the global tech industry, disrupting supply chains, closing factories and shutting retail stores. Major tech companies across the globe are dropping out of global trade shows and industry conferences and restricting travel for employees. The cancellation of the major shows is not only having a direct impact on companies, but is shaking up the entire technology and business ecosystem.

Read more: Tech Industry Feeling the Heat of Coronavirus

Tech majors cancel events, participation

Last week, Facebook canceled its developer conference F8 in San Jose because of Coronavirus concerns. Last year, the event attracted more than 5,000 people from around the globe. According to an update on their social media page, Facebook said it will use a combination of locally-hosted events, videos and live-streamed content to bring developers together.

Facebook also cancelled a Global Marketing Summit slated for San Francisco on March 9-12. In a statement, the company said, “Out of an abundance of caution, we canceled our Global Marketing Summit due to evolving public health risks related to Coronavirus.”

Read more: Coronavirus Fears Claims More Global Conferences

The Game Developers Conference (GDC), scheduled for March 16-20 in San Francisco suffered a similar fate. It cancelled after Microsoft, Sony, Epic Games, EA, Unity, Facebook and Kojima dropped out, alongside China-based attendees. The organizers of the event said in a statement, “After close consultation with our partners in the game development industry and community around the world, we’ve made the difficult decision to postpone the Game Developers Conference this March.”

Google cancelled its Google News Initiative Summit due to concerns about the Coronavirus. The conference had been scheduled for late April in Sunnyvale, California. Google further informed employees by email that a colleague had tested positive for the virus, which causes the disease COVID-19, according to a CNET report. Google has also restricted travel to Iran, two regions in Italy and, starting March, will ban travel to Japan and South Korea.

Cisco Systems cancelled Cisco Live Melbourne, scheduled for March 3-6 in Melbourne, Australia, saying in a statement, “Due to ongoing concerns about the current outbreak of Coronavirus, Cisco has made the difficult decision to cancel Cisco Live Melbourne…Our customers, partners and employees are our top priority and we strongly believe this is the right decision given the current circumstances. Our thoughts are with those directly impacted by this situation.”

GSMA, the sponsor of Mobile World Congress (MWC), announced on February 12 that it was cancelling the event in Barcelona. It was scheduled to take place Feb. 24-27 in Barcelona and normally attracts more than 100,000 visitors and is the largest show in the world focusing on mobile devices. The show was cancelled after tech giants such as LG, Sony, Nvidia, ZTE, Ericsson, Amazon and Intel pulled out of the show.

Tech events that are running

The spread of the Coronavirus hasn’t stopped all gatherings. The RSA Conference is currently taking place in San Francisco, though big names like IBM and Verizon dropped out.

IBM posted on Twitter, “The health of IBMers is our primary concern as we continue to monitor upcoming events and travel relative to Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19).”

The RSA Conference website offered on its webpage some Coronavirus updates; however, no new updates were added after February 25, inviting criticisms.

Some tech conferences have changed formats. The Salesforce World Tour Sydney has gone from an in-person conference to an online-only event on March 4. “After careful consideration of our stakeholders and reflection on our values, we’ve decided to change the format of our World Tour in person event on Wednesday 4 March to be an online experience.”

Costs and Consequences to Tech Trade Shows

The cancelation and postponement of major, global trade shows is another negative sign for technology companies, their investors and sponsors. According to a recent update, fears and uncertainties concerning the Coronavirus are shaking the $2.5 trillion trade show industry from the actual events to ripple effects across the hotel, airline, entertainment, marketing, restaurant and other industries.

Not only do these events serve to bring the technology and business communities together, they are also a major source of revenue for the organizations that sponsor the events. Besides paying conference costs and keeping the events going for the foreseeable future – it is likely that the revenues help support important technical work, promotion and market research among others.

The cancellation of the major shows also have a direct impact on companies, sponsors, events and PR teams, investors and partners and related technical professionals that had made plans to attend the events. Consider the price of admission and ticket cost to attend a major conference which is roughly Rs 70,000. By multiplying that by the average numbers of attendees, for a grand event like MWC, one can estimate the massive loss caused by companies and their sponsors.

The admission fees aside, other costs include airfare, hotel and food per attendee add to the bill. According to Fortune magazine, roughly 28,000 rooms had been reserved for the Feb. 24-28 MWC conference. It estimates that hoteliers too are feeling the pinch, with lost business totaling approximately $121.5 million. Unfortunately, there is little chance of refunds from the hotels or city. More importantly, the above mentioned figure doesn’t include the cost to exhibitors whom pay for booth space, marketing materials, wages for engineering and marketing personal and loss of sales from potential customers.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization increased its Coronavirus risk assessment to “very high” as cases outside of China continue to increase. But officials caution the virus can still be contained if the chain of transmission can be broken.

According to a Guardian report, the Coronavirus outbreak has infected more than 87,000 people and killed nearly 3,000 people globally as of March 1. In mainland China there have been nearly 3000 deaths among over 79,000 cases, mostly in the central province of Hubei. More than 41,000 people affected in China have already recovered.

The new decade which started on a high note for technology community, turned out to be a nightmare in less than a month from the New Year eve. As events form a key part of their promotion and revenue, some quick questions come to mind: One, would exhibitors lose all of the money they’ve invested in preparation for the show? Second, can there be lawsuits to recover some of the costs? Finally, how will the cancelled shows be affected in the future?

May be it’s a little early to find all the answers now. As Ben Wood, chief of research at consultants CCS Insight told Reuters, “The cancellation of trade shows will inevitably cause huge losses for the organizers as well as for companies. Also the sudden and unexpected change will inevitably affect their sales at least in the first half of the year. And this is a tricky situation as now they face the challenge of having to figure out what is the best way to salvage something.”

There may be some solution in the coming months. For now, all that the tech community can do is wait and watch.

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Sohini Bagchi
Sohini Bagchi is Editor at CXOToday, a published author and a storyteller. She can be reached at sohini.bagchi@trivone.com