The (U.S.) National Genealogical Society’s Annual Conference is planned for May 20 to 23, 2020 in Salt Lake City. Obviously, with all the news and the impact of the CoronaVirus (also called COVID-19) and especially the frequent announcements of cancelations or postponements of other large conferences, conventions, and other meetings, the wisdom of holding a major conference at this time is in question.
Specific questions include:
Should the conference be canceled?
If it is held as an in-person event, how many people are willing to travel to the event in these times?
Will the convention center, nearby hotels and restaurants, and even the airlines be capable of handling a large conference during these times of many events being canceled? (Many of those organizations are presently operating with minimal staffing; in some cases, the needed facility may be closed.)
What are the financial penalties of canceling contracts that were signed one, two, or more years ago for the conference center, hotels, presenters, and more?
Should the conference be postponed until a later date? If so, could a suitable facility and the required support services be available on a few weeks’ or months’ notice?
Could the conference be converted to a “virtual conference” that anyone can attend from their home? Could it be converted on two months notice?
What does the future hold? Will the CoronaVirus issues subside in two months, or will the problems increase?
And the most obvious question of all is, “What does the National Genealogical Society do to properly protect the health and safety of everyone involved: attendees, presenters, employees, conference center personnel, and others?
As you might guess, there are no easy answers.
I had an opportunity earlier today to attend a planning session teleconference of several senior officials of the National Genealogical Society. It was a fascinating experience. In fact, all of the above questions were discussed at length. I decided to write a brief summation of the discussions to publish in this newsletter.
In short, everyone at NGS strongly prefers to hold an in-person conference that is bigger and better than any held before.
Yes, that is everyone’s preference. However, the CoronaVirus issues obviously are a huge impediment that may render the preferred solution impossible. Everyone may have to settle for a second-best solution that is much more practical.
I can assure you that the multiple issues involved are being closely monitored by the National Genealogical Society, and everyone involved is trying to find the best and safest solutions possible. The senior officials of NGS are spending a lot of time in teleconferences!
After listening to the conversations this morning, I will make two predictions:
1. Everyone at NGS is committed wants to hold a conference of some sort, even though it probably will not be the preferred solution of anyone. However, nobody is certain if a modified conference can be held on such short notice, especially with the unknown future of travel and large meetings in the face of the still-developing CoronaVirus issues.
2. These things do take time, even though time is limited in this case. In short, do not expect any announcements from NGS within the next few days. There is much work to do first.
On a personal note, I will say that it was very reassuring to listen to the planning and commitment of the people involved. Whatever the final announcement will be, this obviously will not be a “shoot-from-the-hip” solution.