SIGN OF THE TIMES: A Miami Heat fan looks over a coronavirus poster outside the restroom before an NBA game at AmericanAirlines Arena on Wednesday. The league announced last night that it was suspending its season because of the COVID-19 threat. (Getty Images)

All say they’re fielding calls asking about cancellations, postponements

As the novel coronavirus pandemic continues its spread across the U.S., venue managers who gathered in Los Angeles this week for a regional industry association meeting said calls are pouring in from organizers and promoters seeking to cancel or postpone events or inquire about both.

During a town hall-style discussion at the International Association of Venue Managers Region 7 Conference at the Los Angeles Convention Center, some attendees said they were miffed that government officials in some jurisdictions have moved to prohibit large gatherings with little or no consultation with facilities severely affected by such decisions.

Several who spoke at the session, which was moderated by Naz Sabripour, executive director of the Pasadena Convention Center, and San Diego Convention Center senior event manager Dianne Javier, said they were handling requests and inquiries on a case-by-case basis and taking into account if events were one-offs or ongoing bookings.

Virtually all who spoke said they had employed enhanced venue hygiene measures, with crews disinfecting restrooms and high-touch surfaces like door handles, escalator rails or elevator buttons and widely deploying hand sanitation stations or adding to ones already in place. 

Others said they have recruited ushers and security teams in the effort, which can add a measure of reassurance to guests, and have instructed them to connect anyone with questions or concerns to facility staff equipped to provide answers.

Many said they’ve posted signage promoting personal hygiene practices like hand washing, how to properly cover coughs and sneezes or social distancing. One speaker suggested using signs with a human touch, perhaps depicting actual people, instead of stark or cold messaging.

Carisa Norton, vice president of events at the Los Angeles Convention Center, said that facility has created an official statement and posted it to its website to address some of the questions being asked by event organizers and attendees. The statement — which explains measures like a doubling of hand sanitation stations, use of hospital-grade disinfectants and single-use disinfecting wipes in favor of microfiber cloths — has been updated multiple times in the last few weeks to reflect continuing developments and updated policies of county, national and international health officials.

Eboni Wilson, director of guest services at T-Mobile Arena, said that facility and the rest of MGM Resorts International venues have evaluated sourcing for supplies like disinfectants to make sure sufficient quantities are secured for at least the next six months.

She also said stored items should be kept under lock and key and monitored as shortages, often the result of panic buying, have emerged.

Chris Moeslacher, senior manager of convention services at the Las Vegas Convention Center, spoke of spacing seating further apart where possible as a possible way of achieving greater social distance among event attendees.

Separately, he told VenuesNow that the Vegas complex has had one cancellation but many inquiries about postponements, which can possibly be accommodated for smaller shows that can be moved to the slower summer months. He said larger events would be difficult if not impossible to reschedule, a quandary faced by an increasing number of facilities

DeeAnne Snyder, director of event services at the San Diego Convention Center, said the ripple effects of event cancellations will be felt far beyond immediate venue staff, with International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees members, restaurants and other businesses that depend on event attendees and part-time or temporary event staff all facing dire impacts.

“The stark reality is … people’s livelihoods are affected,” she said.

Robby Elliott, director of production at the Mesa (Ariz.) Arts Center, said his facility plans to reach out to its IATSE local to at least provide training opportunities during downtime.

Thushan Rajapaksa, senior vice president of conference exhibitor and sponsor Allied Universal Event Services, said he sees shortages of temporary event staff on the near- and midterm horizon as a result of the health emergency.

Others spoke of ways to constructively use unplanned dark days, like performing preventive or deferred maintenance that’s not possible during normal event schedules.

As for structural changes in the venues industry that will result in the aftermath, Jim Sanfilippo, president of lighting company Nila Inc., another conference exhibitor, said things like teleconferencing through virtual reality and other means might provide temporary solutions but will never replace the face-to-face interactions and shared experience that are part of the live events, meetings, conventions and exhibitions industries.

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