How to communicate a COVID-19 related event cancellation to your attendees. Featuring examples from Google, SXSW, and Amazon.
At the beginning of March, we published an in-depth guide on what event organizers need to know about COVID-19. In this guide we covered how event organizers can and have adapted their event strategies to COVID-19.
Some organizers have had to postpone their events others have decided to take theirs online with a virtual solution, others yet have had to make the very tough decision of outright cancelling their events.
To be sure, if organizers are unable to postpone or go online, the current situation places a responsibility on the shoulders of organizers to cancel their events.
But that doesn't make the decision any easier to make nor does it make it any more straightforward to communicate to attendees.
In order to provide event organizers with a better understanding of how to communicate event cancellations with attendees, we've compiled the below list of examples from brands like Google, SXSW, and Amazon.
With each example we also share the Original Event Date, the Cancellation Announcement Date, and the Anticipated Attendee Count (pulled from event communications).
We plan to update this list with more relevant examples as the situation evolves.
8 Examples of How to Announce an Event Cancellation Due to COVID-19
1. Mobile World Congress
One of the first large events to be congressed, Mobile World Congress was in many ways the canary in the coal mine for COVID-19 for the events industry.
It was in February when reports of COVID-19's global spread began to make headlines. In the face of rising sponsor withdrawals and attendee concerns, the organizers behind the Barcelona-based Mobile World Congress became some of the first to make the tough decision to cancel for the safety of attendees.
Original Event Date: February 24 - 27, 2020
Cancellation Announcement Date: March 17, 2020
Anticipated Attendee Count: 100,000+
With due regard to the safe and healthy environment in Barcelona and the host country today, the GSMA has cancelled MWC Barcelona 2020 because the global concern regarding the coronavirus outbreak, travel concern and other circumstances, make it impossible for the GSMA to hold the event.
The GSMA and the Host City Parties will continue to be working in unison and supporting each other for MWC Barcelona 2021 and future editions.
Our sympathies at this time are with those affected in China, and all around the world.
Further updates from the GSMA, are on our website and can be found on www.mwcbarcelona.com.
One of the biggest announced cancellations is SXSW. The much beloved festival that plays host to tracks around technology, music, and education bravely insisted on proceeding with the event in the face of COVID-19 concerns—even after speakers started pulling out and a petition calling for the cancellation of the event started to go viral.
Ultimately, the festival organizers were forced to cancel the event after the Mayor of Austin declared a disaster order that effectively shuttered the event.
Original Event Date: March 13 - 22, 2020
Cancellation Announcement Date: March 6, 2020
Anticipated Attendee Count: 150,000+
|The City of Austin has cancelled the March dates for SXSW and SXSW EDU. SXSW will faithfully follow the City’s directions.
We are devastated to share this news with you. “The show must go on” is in our DNA, and this is the first time in 34 years that the March event will not take place. We are now working through the ramifications of this unprecedented situation.
As recently as Wednesday, Austin Public Health stated that “there’s no evidence that closing SXSW or any other gatherings will make the community safer.” However, this situation evolved rapidly, and we honor and respect the City of Austin’s decision. We are committed to do our part to help protect our staff, attendees, and fellow Austinites.
We are exploring options to reschedule the event and are working to provide a virtual SXSW online experience as soon as possible for 2020 participants, starting with SXSW EDU. For our registrants, clients, and participants we will be in touch as soon as possible and will publish an FAQ.
We understand the gravity of the situation for all the creatives who utilize SXSW to accelerate their careers; for the global businesses; and for Austin and the hundreds of small businesses – venues, theatres, vendors, production companies, service industry staff, and other partners that rely so heavily on the increased business that SXSW attracts.
We will continue to work hard to bring you the unique events you love. Though it’s true that our March 2020 event will no longer take place in the way that we intended, we continue to strive toward our purpose – helping creative people achieve their goals.
3. Women in Cybersecurity
Women in Cybersecurity (WiCyS) is a non-profit dedicated to bringing together women in cybersecurity from academia, research and industry. Being a non-profit, the event especially relies on sponsors to make their event possible.
In their cancellation message, the organizers highlighted the mission-driven nature of their events. They also did a great job of thanking their sponsors for their support.
Original Event Date: March 12 - 14, 2020
Cancellation Announcement Date: March 7, 2020
Anticipated Attendee Count: 1,600+
Our WiCyS hearts couldn't be more full due to the outpouring of support from our incredible WiCyS members and conference sponsors. The decision to cancel the WiCyS 2020 conference was a tough one, but a necessary one since travel restrictions made the event no longer viable. We are also comforted knowing our WiCyS community is not being put in harm's way with the novel coronavirus, for that would be a burden we could not bear.
4. IMEX Frankfurt
IMEX is a landmark trade show in the events industry. It's also a family business founded by Ray Bloom and run by his daughter CEO Carina Bauer.
In their extensive cancellation announcement, Carina and Ray highlighted their personal disappointment on behalf of the many exhibitors and buyers and the global business events community.
To further drive home this message, the organizers featured quotes from partners and industry thought leaders to illustrate the communal toll of the cancellation.
Original Event Date: May 12 - 14, 2020
Cancellation Announcement Date: March 11, 2020
Anticipated Attendee Count: 5,000+
|It is with deep sadness and heavy hearts that we announce the cancellation of this year’s IMEX in Frankfurt (due to take place 12-14 May).
We know that this will come as an enormous disappointment, not only to the exhibitors, buyers and industry professionals who were due to attend the show, but also to the global business events community.
This is not a decision we have taken lightly and there are two overriding concerns that have caused us to make this decision at this time.
First is the uncertainty caused by the fact that the German health minister has recently called for the ban on events with over 1,000 people which some German states have already endorsed, including the state of Hesse where Frankfurt is located. This announcement makes the probability of factors outside our control forcing us to cancel the show at the last minute much higher.
Second, our primary concern is always the responsibility we feel towards our exhibitors and partners, who fund the show – not only by purchasing stand space but also in the considerable additional investment they make in everything from the build of stunning stands to the hosting of buyer events...
5. Facebook F8
Facebook F8 is an annual gathering of developers and entrepreneurs who build services and products for and related to the social media platform.
In cancelling F8, Facebook doubled down on their commitment to serving local communities and creating opportunities for students. They also hinted at potential virtual and in-person experiences that would supplant this year's event.
Original Event Date: May 5 - 6, 2020
Cancellation Announcement Date: February 27, 2020
Anticipated Attendee Count: 5,000
Every year, we look forward to connecting with our global developer community at F8 and sharing our vision for the future that we’re building together. But given the growing concerns around COVID-19, we’ve made the difficult decision to cancel the in-person component of F8 2020.
We remain committed to the city of San Jose, where we’ve hosted F8, and its community. Every year, we donate a portion of F8 ticket sales to an organization working to diversify the tech industry. This year, we’re doubling that donation amount to $500,000 and will prioritize organizations serving local San Jose residents.
In place of the in-person F8 event, we’re planning other ways for our community to get together through a combo of locally hosted events, videos and live streamed content. We’ll share additional details on our plans for F8 in the coming weeks. Sign up here to have updates emailed to you directly. In the meantime, thanks for your patience and understanding -- and we look forward to seeing our global community of developers at F8 2021!
6. Google I/O 2020
Initially the organizers behind Google I/O intended to host a virtual experience instead of the in-person event.
Once California health officials announced a "shelter in place" order, the organizers of Google I/O took a commendable step to look out for the safety of their employees and hold off on any event—online or offline—for the foreseeable future.
The organizers also provided a helpful FAQ on the event website about their decision.
Original Event Date: May 12 - 14, 2020
Cancellation Announcement Date: March 3, 2020
Anticipated Attendee Count: 5,000
|Out of concern for the health and safety of our developers, employees, and local communities — and in line with recent “shelter in place” orders by the local Bay Area counties — we sadly will not be holding I/O in any capacity this year.
Right now, the most important thing all of us can do is focus our attention on helping people with the new challenges we all face. Please know that we remain committed to finding other ways to share platform updates with you through our developer blogs and community forums.
Take care of yourselves. We'll continue to do everything we can to help our communities stay safe, informed, and connected.
7. E3 2020
E3 is a centerpiece event in the gaming industry. The event was scheduled to take place in Los Angeles this June but the event organizers decided not risk it and pulled the plug.
In their communications the organizers clearly stated their intention to fully refund attendees and sponsors—a step that many events are taking but have not been sharing as explicitly in their cancellation announcements.
Original Event Date: June 9 - 11, 2020
Cancellation Announcement Date: March 11, 2020
Anticipated Attendee Count: 60,000+
|After careful consultation with our member companies regarding the health and safety of everyone in our industry – our fans, our employees, our exhibitors, and our longtime E3 partners – we have made the difficult decision to cancel E3 2020, scheduled for June 9-11 in Los Angeles.
Following increased and overwhelming concerns about the COVID-19 virus, we felt this was the best way to proceed during such an unprecedented global situation. We are very disappointed that we are unable to hold this event for our fans and supporters. But we know it’s the right decision based on the information we have today.
Our team will be reaching out directly to exhibitors and attendees with information about providing full refunds.
We are also exploring options with our members to coordinate an online experience to showcase industry announcements and news in June 2020. Updates will be shared on E3Expo.com.
We thank everyone who shared their views on reimagining E3 this year. We look forward to bringing you E3 2021 as a reimagined event that brings fans, media, and the industry together in a showcase that celebrates the global video game industry.
8. Amazon Re:MARS
In a brief but detailed statement on their website, the organizers of Re:MARS managed to send a strong message of empathy for their event guests. In addition to sharing that all guests would receive a refund on their ticket, the organizers also shared that they would refund any hotels booked from their hotel room.
They also provided website visitors with the opportunity to reach out one-on-one with questions via email or Twitter.
Original Event Date: June 13 - 16, 2020
Cancellation Announcement Date: March 14, 2020
Anticipated Attendee Count: -
Thank you for your interest in re:MARS 2020. Our top priority is the well-being of our employees, customers, partners, and event attendees. We have been closely monitoring the situation with COVID-19, and after much consideration, we have made the decision to cancel re:MARS 2020. All guests who have purchased tickets will receive a full refund of registration fees. Hotel rooms booked through our conference website will be canceled free of charge. Over the course of the coming weeks, we will explore other ways to engage the community.
Wrapping Up: Canceling Your Event
Given the current state of COVID-19, canceling events is a moral imperative but it's also a logical one. Most if not all event registrants are planning to not attend events and most municipalities are formally banning large gatherings.
What will be trickier is our gradual return to the status quo, when audiences are once again comfortable convening in an in-person setting.
Until we get to that point, postponing, virtualizing or cancelling your events is your best bet. Here's a recap of some best practices from the above examples.
Best practices for cancelling your event:
- Be proactive in your communication with relevant stakeholders—be they attendees or sponsors. Even if you are not sure if your event will be cancelled, postpone, or moved online.
- When you do decide to cancel, demonstrate that you have been monitoring the situation closely and frame the decision as being in the best interest of your attendees, speakers and partners.
- Have a clear (and generous) refund/registration transfer policy in place for attendees and other stakeholders.
- Direct readers to a webpage or email address where they can find more information on upcoming virtual and in-person events.
- Loop your legal team in early so that they are aware of any contractual decisions.
- You will ideally want to cancel 30 days out or more, since contracts with your vendors are likely to be more flexible during this window.
- Check with your venue and vendors to see if you are contractually covered. If not, see if you can work something out. Chances are that vendors will be understanding of the global moment and will prefer to maintain the relationship they have with you.
- Reach out to attendees at least one week before the event day to save out-of-town travelers from making the trip.
Note: If you are a Bizzabo customer whose event plan has been affected by COVID-19, reach out to your Customer Success Manager for information on how we can assist you.