By Rob Wright, Chief Editor, Life Science Leader
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Not long after the conclusion of a nice long Labor Day weekend, we learned that the annual J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference (JPM) would be going virtual in January 2021. Let me be the first to say that had #JPM21 been scheduled to take place in person as usual, albeit with plans to reduce attendance to enable social distancing and requiring masks to be worn, I would have gone. And while I was there, I would have attended the annual Biotech Showcase, too. In fact, like many of you, I was looking at JPM as the event that would signal the resurgence of business travel in our industry. I figured it would have been about a year since the initial outbreak, and if we practice what we now know works to prevent the spread of COVID-19, then my likelihood of getting it would be greatly reduced. Whether or not my company would have supported, enabled, or even allowed me to travel to JPM is a completely different matter. I’m just saying that if I were told I could attend only one biopharmaceutical industry event in any given year, JPM would top the list — end of discussion. Yes, there are numerous other shows and events that I value. But JPM is our annual kickoff and Superbowl combined. And if that isn’t going to happen, what then? What’s the next show that would get me to consider getting back out on the road? Because while there are a number of large and small post JPM events that happen in Q1 that I have attended and value, do any of them offer enough value to get me to consider traveling before June? No JPM pretty much kills any other Q1 travel I might have considered. For me, the next travel barometer is the annual BIO International Convention (June 14 - 17, 2021) planned for Boston, which always happens in Q2. I can imagine for others it might be the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society’s annual meeting (HIMSS) or the American Society of Clinical Oncology annual meeting (ASCO), which typically take place in Q1 (March) and Q2 (June) respectively. ASCO is planning for June 4 – 8 in its usual spot in Chicago. HIMSS, however, has announced plans to have its in-person meeting in Las Vegas, Aug. 9 – 13, putting it squarely in Q3 of 2021. Do they know something we don’t?
5 Questions On Travel Plans For 2021
We all know that conference and content producers have been trying to continue to deliver value virtually (often for free or at reduced rates) all year, but I am sure they and other biopharma leaders would benefit from understanding how many of you are viewing travel in 2021. That brings me to my list of questions below regarding your travel plans for 2021. Hopefully you can email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) your answers, and then I’ll share the results in a future blog. I look forward to hearing from you!
Editor’s Note – I’ve included anonymized responses from two Life Science Leader editorial advisory board members to give you a feel for what others in industry have to say.
- What does 2021 travel look like for employees at your company?
- We will be limiting travel during the first half of 2021 to only essential travel. We do expect that second half travel will pick up, as more companies open, more meetings and events are held in person, etc., but do not anticipate a full return to travel as normal during 2021. In particular, international travel is likely to remain very limited throughout next year.
- The companies that I am affiliated with (five different boards) are behaving very similarly. Anyone who can work from home has been doing so since March. Laboratory workers have worked in shifts in order to be able to social distance. All are wearing PPE while they work at the bench. This isn’t optimal but quite functional.
- Did your company have travel restrictions in place for 2020? If so, do you expect those will continue into 2021, and if so, for how long?
- In 2020, we halted all non-essential travel back in March, and plan to continue that limitation through the second half of 2021, as noted above.
- Yes, travel restrictions are universal and will certainly continue into 2021. I think Dr. Redfield of the CDC is correct when he says that even if a vaccine is available by the end of 2020, broad vaccinations won’t be occurring until the summer of 2021. Thus, I think all travel restrictions will continue until at least then.
- Do you expect travel to be “back to normal” in 2021? If so, when?
- See above.
- Probably the end of 2021, assuming COVID-19 has ebbed dramatically by then.
- Will your company be allowing “essential” travel in 2021? If so, how is that defined? For example, intracompany travel from a home office in Boston to nearby facility is okay, but travelling for a conference would not be okay.
- Yes. Essential is determined on a case by case basis, by the supervisor initially and then with the approval of our COVID-19 management taskforce.
- I think true essential travel will be rare. I have been impressed by the success of transacting business remotely. This has been eye-opening.
- Faced with COVID-related travel restrictions, how are you replacing or supplementing the value that conference/trade show travel has typically provided?
- Through virtual conferences; more smaller/intimate gatherings via zoom, on a more regular basis.
- I attended the recent STAT conference remotely and it was very well done. If conferences are offered remotely, I will give strong consideration for attending via Zoom. Those who may need to be at trade shows might, however, feel differently. I no longer do these.
- On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being no comfort, and 10 being completely comfortable, how comfortable are you right now, traveling domestically for work (must involve an airline flight through a major airport)?
- 1! I am 70 years old and so I am in that risk demographic. I will not take any risks, no matter how minimal.
- Considering the same 10-point scale, what does your comfort level number have to be before you would consider domestic airline travel through a major airport for work?