Question value after conferences shutdown due to coronavirus risk

The tech industry loves big tech events and for the host cities, these huge events represent a massive boost to the local economy.

Thousands upon thousands of customers, sales people, and industry executives travel to glamorous cities around the world. They endure long flights, dehumanising passport and immigration control and extortionate airport taxi fares, all because they want to sit in dark conference rooms and breakout sessions, where they drink too much bad coffee and eat too many unhealthy snacks. They attend to listen to the best brains in the business talk about the latest thinking and innovations, to network, and maybe, get to see a megaband perform a very lucrative gig.

But with the risk of coronavirus spreading, next week’s Mobile World Congress has been cancelled.

There are also reports across the web that Facebook and Intel have canceled events and on Friday 14 February, IBM pulled out of the annual RSA security event as a platinum sponsor.

Connectivity without physical travel

For an industry that preaches the information revolution and the freedom it gives individuals to be able to remain connected wherever and whenever they need to, it seems that IT industry executives spend their entire working life travelling from country to country.

One HR manager told Computer Weekly she hadn’t been home for “months”. Another tech head said he was off to Edinburgh after a meeting with clients in London, and then heading to Sydney. According to figures from the Committee for Climate Change, the average UK household generates around 2.2 tonnes of CO2 for heating based on data from 2014. Data from the Carbon footprint calculator (https://calculator.carbonfootprint.com/calculator.aspx?lang=en-GB&tab=3) shows that a one-way ticket from London to Sydney would produce about 2.55 tonnes of CO2. Is it absolutely necessary to travel to a conference or client meeting, or can unified communications and collaboration tech achieve the same results quicker more conveniently, with less  health risk and lower environmental impact,. 

When it met at the end of January, the World Health Organisation stated that it is possible to interrupt virus spread, “provided that countries put in place strong measures to detect disease early, isolate and treat cases, trace contacts, and promote social distancing measures.”

Visiting any conference can potentially increase the risk of the virus spreading. But beyond the current health scare, it is time for the IT industry to assess the value of such events, the value of flying people for client visits, and the environment impact of these things.

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