Meetings

The Shutdown’s Long-Term Ripple Effects on Meetings

By / Jan 17, 2019 (alenaspl/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

While association meetings have already felt the impact of the government shutdown, the effects are likely to persist in the months ahead, even if the government reopens in the next few days or weeks.

Since the government shutdown started four weeks ago, we’ve done a few pieces on its immediate effects on association meetings. The American Meteorological Society, for example, saw more than 700 federal employees and researchers miss its annual meeting earlier this month, and the American Astronomical Society’s conference had at least 300 fewer attendees.

While those immediate effects are significant, the lingering shutdown will likely affect the meetings industry long after the government reopens, leaving association planners and prospective attendees and presenters scrambling. Here’s a look a three of those longer-term impacts.

Fewer Government-Submitted Abstracts

Scientific meetings rely greatly on government employees who submit abstracts and present their research. But the shutdown is limiting their ability to do so. In many cases, they can’t even be included on abstracts submitted by nongovernment researchers.

Not knowing when the shutdown will end, many associations are extending their submission deadlines in that hopes that federal researchers will still have the opportunity to present at their meetings.

Among the groups in this position are the American Society for Microbiology and the International Association for Food Protection.

Beyond extending submission deadlines, associations have come up other strategies to get this research considered. For example, the American Society for Nutrition has said it will make accommodations for late abstracts from those affected by the shutdown, and ISPOR—The Professional Society for Health Economics and Outcomes Research is allowing government employees to email and let them know that they will be submitting something once the government reopens.

Lower Attendance Numbers

Just as federal employees can’t submit abstracts, many also can’t register for future meetings or book travel at the moment. This is not only discouraging to researchers who rely on conferences to collaborate with colleagues and share their work, but it also means associations can’t accurately estimate how many attendees will be onsite and plan their budget or project revenue accordingly.

Recognizing that government employees are unable to commit to attending its April annual meeting, the Seismological Society of America is allowing them to complete their registration form now to sign up for workshops and field trips, but they have the option to “pay later by check.”  In addition, ISPOR is allowing government employees to note their participation as “preliminary.”

Difficulty in Booking Speakers and Venues

At last week’s CES, the shutdown forced 11 government speakers to back out, including FCC Chairman Ajit Pai and Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao.

However, since conference speakers and venues are selected months in advance, the shutdown is likely to affect the booking process for associations meetings taking place over the next several months, particularly those that rely on speakers from government agencies or venues that are federally owned.

So, if an association has an upcoming conference in DC and is looking to book an event at the National Postal Museum or the U.S. Institute of Peace, that’s not possible at the moment. In addition, many government officials will not be able to commit as speakers, which could leave a hole in some meeting agendas.

What other long-term effects do you think the current shutdown will have on meetings? Let us know in the comments.

Samantha Whitehorne

Samantha Whitehorne is editorial director of Associations Now. More »

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