Business as Usual for Meetings and Events Despite Ebola Fears
By Matt Swenson
With fears of Ebola spreading in the country spreading faster than cases of the deadly disease, there are few signs that the anxiety is affecting the meetings and events industry.
In a poll released on October 16, the Global Business Travel Association found nearly 80 percent of the 421 corporate travel survey say the disease has little to no impact on international plans in the past month. Additionally, more than 90 percent say it has not affected domestic travel plans.
The poll was conducted between October 13 and October 15, the day news broke that one of the nurses who treated a patient that died of Ebola in Texas and is now exhibiting symptoms had flown for Cleveland to Dallas while running a fever of 99.5 degrees.
While her temperature was lower than the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines for screening travelers in Ebola-affected countries, the health agency acknowledged the health-care worker should not have been allowed to fly on the Frontier Airlines with 132 other passengers. The airline and CDC are reaching out to those on board, though the consensus from medical officials is the disease was probably not spread because the nurse was only in the early stages of Ebola.
A day after the latest bit of bad news, one air traveler at Washington Dulles International Airport was seen in a full-body Hazmat suit. Similarly, a Washington Poll nationwide survey found two-thirds of Americans are concerned about Ebola, with 40 percent of respondents saying they are worried a family member will become infected. Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) added to the chorus of fear, suggesting on Thursday President Obama place a temporary travel ban on the West African counties where nearly 4,500 people have died from the virus.
The president has thus far resisted such measures, earning kudos from the Washington D.C.-based U.S. Travel Association. “The Obama Administration’s Ebola response has thus far been thoughtful and measured, and has resisted the temptation for draconian overreaction,” USTA President and CEO Roger Dow said in a statement on October 8. “Relevant agencies across the federal government deserve praise for the responsible, deliberative approach they have brought to this high-profile problem.”
The Dallas Convention and Visitors Bureau is taking a similarly cautious stance. The CVB reported no meeting cancellations since Liberian Thomas Eric Duncan died on Oct. 8 at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas. (A second nurse who treated Duncan and contracted Ebola is now listed in good condition by the hospital.) The Design-Build Institute of America held its annual conference and expo in Dallas in early October, reporting more than 1,500 attendees on its website.
“It’s been very low key, matter of fact,” says Dallas CVP and CEO President Phillip J. Jones of the reaction he’s seen. “You’re not going to get Ebola by walking down the street. You have to be in within very close proximity with someone who’s been infected.”
That said, Jones says he and his team are monitoring the fluid situation on an hourly basis. For now, the CVB is focused on education efforts, just as planners are. The GBTA study found 36 percent of travel managers gave tips related to Ebola, and another 41 percent planned to do so in the future.