Pandemic Effects on Conference & Event Planning for 2021 & Beyond

The Covid-19 pandemic has caused many upcoming academic events to be cancelled and many to be moved online. How is it affecting the planning of events scheduled a bit farther out, say, for next year?

[calendar design by Otavio Santiago]

One reader asks:

I’d be interested to know how people are planning conferences for 2021… I’m presuming any conference will have to develop contingency plans of some sort in case another “wave” hits.  

Have any 2021 academic events yet been cancelled because of the pandemic? Have people decided to not plan in-person events for 2021 owing to the uncertainty of how long travel restrictions and other forms of “social distancing” remain in place? Are people trying to plan events in such a way that they can more easily be moved online should the need arise? How? Are people who are planning in-person conferences taking advantage of the pandemic to negotiate more favorable rates and more liberal cancellation terms with hotels and event spaces?

Relatedly, do you think the pandemic will have a lasting impact on your inclination to travel for conferences or talks?


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Ken Friedman
Ken Friedman
4 years ago

Hi, Justin,

With respect to conferences, I have the sense that people are being careful and thinking long term. I’m not sure, though.

For my part, I intend to be extremely careful. At 70, with a heart condition, I belong to two risk groups. The current best thinking is that there will be a Cover-19 vaccine sometime next year. I do not intend to travel or even to risk infection until I can be vaccinated. Even with infection at home in Sweden, there is a shortage of resources that may necessitate unpleasant triage decisions should facilities become overcrowded. I accept the fact that I am likely to draw the short straw in such a situation. Avoiding Covid-19 through social distance, walks in a large empty park, and no travel is the best plan until the vaccine is ready.

While I have no objection to death when my time comes, I have a few projects I’d like to finish first.



Ken Friedman, Ph.D., D.Sc. (hc), FDRS | Editor-in-Chief | 设计 She Ji. The Journal of Design, Economics, and Innovation | Published by Tongji University in Cooperation with Elsevier | URL:

Chair Professor of Design Innovation Studies | College of Design and Innovation | Tongji University | Shanghai, China ||| Eminent Scholar | College of Design, Art, Architecture, and Planning | University of Cincinnati ||| Email [email protected] | Academia | D&I

Daniel Greco
Daniel Greco
4 years ago

At my university we’ve been asked to forego all advance booking of travel not only for the summer but for the fall as well. So while I could conceivably end up being able to attend a conference in the fall, I couldn’t now commit to doing so.

Todd Marsch
Todd Marsch
4 years ago

I think that my approach will be to not submit anything to conferences that aren’t within driving distance until there is an effective, widely available vaccine. It seems likely that until such a vaccine is available, coronavirus infections will wax and wane, and you can’t be certain that a conference even 8-10 months out won’t fall during a period and in a location where infections are waxing.

I was scheduled to go to a conference in Finland at the end of April, which is obviously canceled, but I’m probably to going to have to eat the cost of that plane ticket. I bought travel insurance, but it doesn’t cover pandemics. American Airlines says that the flight isn’t canceled (though it now involves an extra stop and 6 extra hours of travel time each way), so I can’t get a full refund, only credit on the airline, and who knows when I can fly again? So, I’d rather not put myself in that situation again this fall or winter.

Harold N.
Harold N.
Reply to  Todd Marsch
4 years ago

Sorry to post somewhat off topic, but the AA policy is to issue cash refunds in the event of a passenger’s decision to cancel a flight as a result of schedule changes greater than 2 hours. This is not part of the special coronavirus flexibility; it’s in their standard terms. If you DM them on twitter and say you don’t accept the involuntary change, they’ll refund you.

Orlando Sydney
4 years ago

not only conferences, it’s obviously the same for the whole events sector, so we put together a resources page on the effects that COVID-19.
What are the events suppliers to do, move on to other work and abandon the entertainment and hospitality industry?

We hope the Events sector come back stronger in 6+ months.