The world’s largest brewing industry event will not take place as scheduled in April, the Brewers Association announced today. The industry group has cancelled the Craft Brewers Conference and World Beer Cup in light of growing concerns about COVID-19, also known as the novel coronavirus.
The conference and competition were scheduled for April 19 to 22 in San Antonio, Texas, along with the BrewExpo trade show. Now they have joined a rapidly growing list of events cancelled or postponed worldwide out of caution, in a widening public effort to slow the spread of the virus.
“Given the developments over the past 24 hours, we have made the difficult decision to cancel the 2020 Craft Brewers Conference & BrewExpo America and World Beer Cup,” Brewers Association President and CEO Bob Pease said in the announcement. The group said it will provide full refunds within 60 days for registration, booth fees, and sponsorship payments, as well as for entry fees to the World Beer Cup.
“We are grateful to all of you who made plans to attend this year’s events,” Pease said. “It is heartbreaking to miss the annual gathering of our craft-brewing community, but the safety and health of attendees, exhibitors, sponsors, staff, volunteers, and the craft-brewing community at large are paramount to the Brewers Association.”
According to the most recent official accounts of the coronavirus, there have been more than 132,000 confirmed cases worldwide, and nearly 5,000 deaths among those known cases. The United States has identified more than 1,500 cases and 39 deaths. The virus disproportionately affects people who are older or more vulnerable because of other health conditions, and there is not yet an accepted treatment or vaccine. Relative to other countries, U.S. officials have been slow to make testing available; there are growing fears that the highly contagious virus has spread more widely in the community. Recently, that has led a number of organizations to cancel or postpone large gatherings out of caution.
The annual CBC attracts thousands of attendees, as well as more than 1,000 exhibitors to its World Beer Expo. This was also to be a year for the biennial World Beer Cup, the world’s largest beer competition; the next is not planned until 2022.
The Brewers Association met with local health officials today to discuss possible measures, and the announcement followed in the evening. The group said that the event would not be rescheduled. “Meetings the size of CBC are planned years in advance, with coordination with cities large enough to accommodate thousands of people at once. As such, rescheduling is regrettably not an option.”
The BA also set up a CBC information page with more details about the cancellation and its repurcussions. The group did not rule out the possibility that some key conference seminars might be held online, such as BA Economist Bart Watson’s presentation on the state of the industry.
Meanwhile, the state of that industry is sure to face new challenges from the virus and its fallout. Brewers, manufacturers, and the hospitality industry are bracing for a difficult season, as people in affected areas began making plans to practice “social distancing”—staying away from close social contact and crowded places, including bars and restaurants. Officials are also encouraging people who have symptoms to self-quarantine, or stay at home, for at least two weeks. Jenelle Scott, a spokeswoman for the Brewers Association, told the Brewing Industry Guide that it was too early to estimate the potential economic impact.
The expected drop in business comes after a typically lean winter season and as the country’s 8,000-plus breweries continue to face a tightening market.
On Wednesday, the Brewers Association published a Coronavirus Resource Center for its members. The page gathers a number of links to information that may be useful to breweries and others in the industry. These include guidelines on sanitary practices for draft beer, a list of EPA-approved antimicrobial products effective against coronavirus, and relevant tips from the National Restaurant Association. They also include federal health guidance for businesses, employers, and travelers.
Recent daily updates from San Antonio officials have stressed that there were no “community spread cases” in the city or surrounding Bexar County. The only cases confirmed locally were at Lackland Air Force Base—as many as 400 evacuated cruise ship passengers, brought there in waves since February for a federally mandated quarantine. “Therefore, the risk of infection remains low,” the city said.
However, for an event that attracts thousands of attendees from across the country and around the world—and inevitably brings them into close proximity, in seminars, on the trade show floor, and at area events and bars—the lack of confirmed cases in San Antonio was only part of the complex dilemma to consider.
Earlier this week, the BA said that fewer than 1 percent of registered attendees had cancelled since February 1—a cancellation rate similar to last year. The BA also had listed several extra precautions it planned to take at the venue in advance of the conference and trade show. These included ensuring that hand-sanitizer units were working and full, as well as posting signs that reminded attendees to wash hands and cover mouths. In the end, the group decided that such precautions were not enough.
The next Craft Brewers Conference is scheduled for March 29–April 1, 2021, in San Diego, California.