Impact of the H1N1 Virus to the Congress Industry
Day-to-day media reporting and the pandemic declaring in a large number of countries has resulted in the everyday life of individuals being largely determined by the daily development of the virus. Consequently, its huge impact to certain industries, such as the pharmaceutical industry, is implied, just like the inevitable impact to the healthcare, cultural and social events and, of course, great influence to the congress industry, i.e. tourism in general.
Logically, public gatherings, especially crowds, should be avoided (minimal distance of a meter from other people is advised), so that the organisation and realisation of all types of gatherings, especially mass gatherings, is questioned.
Still, the World Health Organization does not recommend restrictions, i.e. the suspension of travelling, considering the fact that the virus A (H1N1) is present in many parts of the world. The global response now should be to minimise the influence of the virus H1N1 through the efficient identification of the cases and the provision of adequate medical care.
Congress industry associations worldwide give instructions and recommendations to their members and event managers on how to act and plan events in these circumstances.
The Association of Corporate Travel Executives (ACTE) released a recommendation to its members calling for the ‘temporary suspension of the tradition that is the basis of greetings and agreements in western civilization – the handshake’.
“We have been told that the best way to impede the spread of the H1N1 flu virus is to repeatedly wash our hands, especially after touching our faces or coming into contact with someone else’s face or hand” said Susan Gurley, ACTE Executive Director. “A random polling of ACTE members has revealed it would be easier to drop the traditional handshake, for the duration of the health crisis, as opposed to sneezing or coughing into a sleeve”.
In the meantime, the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AH&LA) released the manual “H1N1 Influenza Management in Hotels”. In addition to the standard measures of healthcare, the manual highlights guidelines for employees and guests who are afflicted with the H1N1 flu or similar symptoms.
After all, being informed about the flu is one of the best ways to be prepared according to Joseph A. McInerney, AH&LA President and CEO.
“Leadership in a crisis depends on information, and this guide will help fill in the blanks about what to do“, said McInerney.
For further information, event managers and hotels may refer to www.ahla.com/flu .
The Public Health Agency of Canada provided special H1N1 guidelines for event managers, covering areas such as the importance of risk assessment prior to an event and the prevention of spreading of potential viruses (influence-like illness – ILI).
Conducting a risk assessment will assist event planners, stakeholders, and local public health officials to determine if an event should be cancelled, modified, or postponed.
Factors to consider when conducting a risk assessment of an event include:
- The capacity of the health care system to respond should an adverse health event occur as a result of a mass gathering (e.g. communities may not be able to respond to an adverse health event, should one occur at a mass gathering, if the local health system is overwhelmed with cases of pandemic (H1N1) 2009 influenza virus;
- The morbidity and mortality of the pandemic (H1N1) 2009 influenza virus illness within the community;
- The target audience of the mass gathering (e.g. children, seniors, local vs. international);
- The size and duration of the event;
- The types of transportation that will be used, if the event includes transportation, and the degree of isolation from medical attention (e.g. cars vs. buses);
- The types of accommodation that will be used by event attendees (e.g. individual hotel rooms vs. dormitory style);
- The purpose of the mass gathering and the potential political, social, cultural and economic impacts of cancelling the event;
- The season the event is to be held in and the type of venue (e.g. an outdoor summer event vs. an indoor winter event); and
- The ability of the event organizer to provide adequate hygiene & sanitation facilities.
To help mitigate the spread of the virus, public health officials can provide guidance to event organizers by providing information prior to the event (e.g. with event tickets, announcements on radio & TV, etc), such as:
- The signs and symptoms of the H1N1 virus;
- The importance of attendees to stay home if ill with symptoms of the disease;
- The potential for the spread of the virus at such events; messages of adequate hand hygiene, coughing and sneezing.
Considering everything, events are still being planned and organised, as they should be, but all participants, organisers and public authorities must primarily focus on being informed, organisation, cooperation and taking action if needed.