by Loren G. Edelstein | February 24, 2016

Meeting professionals are understandably concerned about holding upcoming events in Zika-affected areas, confirmed an online poll conducted by M&C Feb. 17-23. Of the 58 respondents, 43 percent do have meetings planned for the areas where the virus is actively spreading.

More than one-third already have moved or canceled meetings, or are considering doing so; 63 percent do not intend to make any changes at this point. "An incentive trip to Puerto Rico was moved to the mainland," noted one respondent. "We have one meeting too late to relocate," said another, "but some 'most at risk' attendees are refusing to go. Another major leadership meeting has been relocated to an unaffected area."

Of those with affected meetings, 27 percent have had cancellations, while 16 percent are expecting a small number of cancellations and another 16 percent anticipate that many registered attendees will decide to cancel. 

As a result of attendee concerns, 9 percent have changed or relaxed their cancellation policies, and 15 percent are considering doing so. "Cancellation fees were waived with one group, and we are still working through the negotiations with another," said a planner. For a meeting farther out, noted one respondent, "We put the statement out with the warning on the invitation, so if anyone is concerned they need not register."

One-third said their cancellation clauses specifically address illness outbreaks and official travel advisories. 

The virus is likely to have a significant impact on future gatherings in the affected regions. Nearly one in four respondents will "definitely" avoid booking future meetings -- up to two years out -- in destinations where Zika is currently active. Another 43 percent will "possibly" avoid those areas. 

Many are taking a wait-and-see approach. "They seem to be learning more about Zika all the time," commented a respondent. "It would be extremely premature to make sweeping decisions at this point."

A related survey conducted in late January by M&C yielded similar findings and planner comments. Find those details at bit.ly/24pbtKN. Results and planner comments from the recent survey are below.

How concerned are you about the Zika virus?

Not concerned             17%
Somewhat concerned  56%
Very concerned            17%
Extremely concerned   10%

Do you have any meetings planned for the affected areas?

Yes     43%
No       57%

If yes, are you considering moving or canceling your meeting(s)?

Yes, we have moved or canceled a meeting   15%
Yes, we are considering doing so                    22%
No, we are not making any changes                63%

Please explain:

• We do not cover the regions affected.
• We have mothers on our team; all may still want to add children to the family.
• Attendees did not want to travel to affected areas.
• We represent public health; we expect a lot of sessions on the Zika virus, and precautionary measures wherever our meetings take place.
• Two incentive trips were moved.
• We have just advised attendees of who it can effect the most.
• Zika is a hoax: See Jon Rappoport at NoMoreFakNew.com; it's a relative non-issue.
• We had a meeting in Brazil.
• We will give plenty of notification about those who need to take precautions and let them know that the resort is taking extra precautions to keep the mosquito population down, plus offering complimentary bug repellant to those who ask for it.
• Not a real threat to me
• Had meeting planned for Puerto Rico in Feb 2017
• We have a meeting scheduled in Panama but are considering moving it.
• Not yet, but we are closely monitoring the situation
• Our meeting attendees are not part of the high-risk demographic.
• We will continue to monitor the areas where we have meetings planned, and go forth accordingly (i.e., move the meeting if a widespread outbreak occurs).
• An incentive trip to Puerto Rico was moved to the mainland.
• Our clients are very worried about Zika!
• We don't currently have plans for meeting in areas affected.
• Obviously nobody WANTS Zika to affect their meeting, but we will just have to make the best of it.
• We have one meeting too late to relocate, but some "most at risk" attendees are refusing to go. Another major leadership meeting has been relocated to an unaffected area.
• For too many women of child bearing years, it is too risky.
• We have all U.S.-based meetings. Texas is a concern, but our time of year isn't peak mosquito season.

If you have an upcoming meeting in an affected area, do you expect attendee cancellations? 

Yes, we already are experiencing cancellations     27%
We expect a small percentage of cancellations      16%
We expect many cancellations                                16%
Not sure/meeting is too far out                                 24%
No, we do not expect cancellations                         30%

Please explain:

• We are not meeting in the affected areas.
• Some attendees chose to stay in the destination (about 40%).
• Only folks planning on conceiving
• We have a meeting in Guatamala in 2017.
• People are afraid.
• We polled our membership.
• None at this time, or near future
• Two pregnant people and three older people who are concerned have canceled.
• We expect women, especially, to reconsider attending.

Have you changed or relaxed attendee cancellation policies as a result of the Zika virus?

Yes       9%
No       44%
We are considering revising our cancellation policies    15%
Not applicable       32%

Please explain:

• Cancellation fees were waived with one group, and we are still working through the negotiations with another.
• We put the statement out with the warning on the invitation, so if anyone is concerned, they need not register.
• The meeting registration hasn't started yet, so we're unable to verify numbers at this point.
• Offering travel in lieu of trip, which we have never done
• We took out the penalty for cancellation after a certain date.
• It is a health concern with liability issues.

Does your cancellation clause address illness outbreaks and travel warnings from the CDC or WHO?

Yes              34%
No               51%
I don't know 15%

Will you avoid booking future meetings (up to two years out) in an area where Zika is currently spreading?

Yes, definitely    23%
Possibly             43%
Not likely            20%
No, it will not affect my decisions      14%

Please explain:

• If we expand marketing to these areas, it is a possibility.
• We do not conduct meetings outside North America.
• We book incentive programs one year out, so we will likely look elsewhere for next year's programs.
• The chairman picks where they will go. This is a volunteer position, and they have to serve several years before they reach this position, so we would never tell them we can't go to their preferred destination.
• CDC is political; remember SARS, etc. A former senator bought 50k shares in Baxter labs and passed leglislation before avian/bird flu mutated. They made big cash on this hype.
• There is enough time so that those who won't come because of the danger will not register.
• It depends on the severity of the outbreak. If it is relatively widespread, it will definitely affect our decision to contract.
• I would avoid it, though my attendees would not be impacted by the child-bearing effects of this virus due to their age.
• They seem to be learning more about Zika all the time. Is it mosquito-borne? Is microcephaly caused by a larvacide in the water? It would be extremely premature to make sweeping decisions at this point.
• We will review Zika situation prior to planning locations for any future meeting.
• It depends on how the situation develops over the next few months.
• Until they have it under control, we will avoid the region impacted.