Coronavirus cancellations of tech industry events cost $500 million at least

As the novel coronavirus continues to take a human and economic toll across the world, the lucrative business of tech conferences is not immune.

The direct economic loss from the cancellation of major tech conferences like Facebook’s F8 event and Mobile World Congress over coronavirus has already passed $500 million, according to estimates data intelligence company PredictHQ pulled for Recode. That number doesn’t even include what event organizers like Facebook itself would have made — just the losses to airlines, hotels, restaurants, and transportation providers that would normally make money from attendees’ purchases. The vast majority of that loss comes from the cancellation of Mobile World Congress, which was supposed to host more than 100,000 attendees in Barcelona last month. Shopify and Adobe have also canceled conferences. While a number of events, including Facebook F8 and Adobe Summit, will still have an online component, that effort does not stave off the significant economic loss from canceling the physical event.

PredictHQ looks at losses from four categories: airfare, lodging, food, and transportation. That means this is a very conservative estimate since it doesn’t include losses incurred from, say, event sponsors, purchases that employees might have made, or ancillary impacts to the local economy.

Google’s newly cancelled 5,000 person developer conference and the Game Developers Conference, a 30,000-person event that was scheduled for March but has been postponed, are not yet included in this data.

PredictHQ said there was a 500 percent increase in major event cancellations and postponements last month, and the International Air Transport Association estimated last month that the new coronavirus outbreak could cost it more than $29 billion in revenue.

Oxford Economics estimates that business conferences generate more than a trillion dollars in direct spending annually; so far these canceled tech conferences haven’t put a major dent into that. Still, both tech companies and consumers will be responsible for bearing the brunt of their losses as most major insurance companies exclude communicable disease losses from reimbursement.

These cancellations come as more than 3,000 people have died and more than 92,000 have been diagnosed with coronavirus. Numerous tech companies, including Twitter and Square, have told their employees to work from home. Several other major companies, like Amazon, have canceled nonessential travel, especially internationally. Mentions of working from home also skyrocketed last month in public company transcripts. If more companies follow these tech companies’ lead, it could result in a test of people’s ability to work at home en masse rather than in the office.

Apple is still expected to hold its giant developer conferences later this spring. Austin’s SXSW is on for later this month, although major tech companies like Facebook, Intel, and Twitter have pulled out of the event. And Recode’s own Code Conference is still scheduled for the end of May.

As the threat of coronavirus grows, it’s likely more companies big and small will decide to cancel their conferences. It remains to be seen how big that loss will be.

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