Virus Fears Slam Real Estate Conference Circuit

As the pandemic spreads, a growing array of industry associations are putting in-person gatherings on ice.
NAA’s 2020 CampusConnex conference in New Orleans, February 2020. Image by Greg Isaacson

The coronavirus pandemic is hitting the real estate conference circuit hard. As the U.S. scrambles to respond to the proliferation of COVID-19 cases across the country, a lengthening list of industry associations have announced they are suspending dozens of events in March and April due to concerns about the highly contagious virus.

The Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY), the International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC) and the New York chapter of the Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA) are among the major organizations that have canceled or postponed events or switched to virtual meetings, amid nationwide efforts to slow the disease’s spread by minimizing face-to-face contact.

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On Friday morning ICSC announced that it was postponing RECon, the annual event that draws tens of thousands of retail real estate professionals to Las Vegas each May. In a statement on its website, ICSC said that it would suspend all events, including RECon, through June 30. The organization added that it is assessing alternative dates for RECon later in 2020 and indicated that Las Vegas would be the host city.

Other groups yanking events include NAIOP (the Commercial Real Estate Development Association), the National Multifamily Housing Council (NMHC), The Real Estate Roundtable, and the National Association of Realtors (NAR), as well as industry information firm Connect Media.

The flurry of cancellations come as anxiety over COVID-19 shuts down ever-larger swaths of American life. Twenty-three U.S. states have declared states of emergency to combat the virus, while more than 10,000 K-12 schools are slated to close across the nation and public events such as the March Madness basketball tournaments are being scrapped.

Big Apple gets battered

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. Image courtesy of Gage Skidmore via Wikimedia Commons

REBNY has jumped on board by announcing on Thursday that it would cancel or postpone all in-person events and classes for the month of March in light of new official guidance on the virus. In a statement on its website, the New York real estate industry association listed 18 events that would be affected, including an annual spring luncheon for members that was scheduled for next week.

For its part, BOMA New York has transitioned all in-person committee meetings to conference calls, indefinitely suspended scheduled programs such as building tours, and postponed its Proptech Summit, which was originally scheduled for Thursday. The chapter “is coordinating with its partner organizations throughout the city to ensure the message to all New Yorkers is clear and consistent,” according to a statement provided to Commercial Property Executive.

More industry meetings are likely to be put on ice in the coming days and weeks, after New York Governor Andrew Cuomo on Thursday issued an extraordinary ban on gatherings of 500 or more people across the state. On the same day, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio declared a state of emergency in America’s largest city, which has reported 95 coronavirus cases.

From East to West

2019 NMHC Student Housing Conference in Chicago. Image courtesy of NMHC

Further west, NAOIP pulled the plug on its I.CON Spring 2020 industrial real estate conference, which was to be held on March 2-3 in Huntington Beach, Calif. NAR has canceled two conferences slated to take place this month in California: The Joint AE Institute in San Diego and the REALTOR Broker Summit in Los Angeles. The state has seen 175 confirmed cases of COVID-19 to date, with four deaths.

NMHC said this week it has pulled three events scheduled from March 30 to April 9 in Denver, Houston and Nashville, Tenn. The apartment industry association added that it will automatically cancel everyone’s registration and issue a refund within five days.

The Real Estate Roundtable, whose members’ portfolios include more than 12 billion square feet of commercial property, decided to cancel its March 31 Roundtable meeting in Washington, D.C. The nonprofit’s next gathering will be its Annual Meeting in June.

Other huge events, including Realcomm’s IBcon conference in Miami and the National Apartment Association (NAA)’s Apartmentalize gathering in Boston—both scheduled for June—are still on the calendar. The Urban Land Institute (ULI), which is holding its Spring Conference in Toronto in May, had no change of plans to announce.

Trade shows struggle

In an e-mailed statement on Thursday afternoon, Connect Media, which has 17 more conferences in the works for 2020, said it was putting all events on hold until further notice. However, the real estate media company plans to host a COVID-19 webinar every few weeks.

The novel coronavirus is wreaking havoc on America’s trade show and conference planning industry, which saw total revenue of $16 billion in 2019, according to IBISWorld. PredictHQ estimates that the cancellation of more than 10 major tech conferences in the U.S. has already inflicted more than $1.1 billion in direct economic losses.