I’ve been thinking about AMUG’s decision to host their 2021 event in person only a few months from now.
The organization has hosted a well-regarded annual practitioner event for many years, providing a space where 3D print professionals can learn, share and most importantly network amongst themselves. Many participants report learning highly valuable skills and tips by participating.
However, the pandemic changed things for everyone, including AMUG. Their 2020 event was “postponed” until 2021, and I am still unsure of the difference between “postponement” and “cancellation”. Nevertheless, it is now 2021, and AMUG has announced their plans.
They will be holding an in-person event in Orlando, Florida on May 2-6, only weeks from today. AMUG’s President Carl Dekker explained:
“Our event is still on! It will be a bit different from previous years, but different has become normal. We understand that we are seeing more news regarding COVID-19, and while some of our members may be absent this year, we are looking forward to their future participation and contributions.”
However, there is still a major pandemic ongoing, and it is highly unlikely to be much different ten weeks from today.
AMUG explained there will be some changes at the event to recognize the pandemic:
“To ensure the in-person event adheres to safety protocols related to COVID-19, AMUG is working with an industry consultant for guidance and advice on all necessary safety precautions pertaining to live conferences and events.”
One of those precautions is limiting attendance. They explain further:
“Attendance will be limited to a capacity allowed by the Hilton Orlando, City of Orlando, and State of Florida to reflect social distancing requirements. Due to fluctuating requirements, the specific number of attendees we can accommodate is still fluid.”
It appears there will likely be NO option for virtual attendance: this seems to be an in-person event only. While at one point in their FAQ they say they “cannot commit” to a virtual capability, the answer to the question, “Will the conference be held in-person or virtually” is:
“The 2021 AMUG conference will be held in-person.”
That answer, the non-committal statement about virtual capability, and the fact they’ve not announced anything about virtual specifics strongly suggests that AMUG 2021 will be an in-person event only, with no hybrid option.
Finally, they’ve also made a number of changes to account for cancellations, travel problems, and other effects related to the unpredictability of the current situation. These changes also include tweaks to their board of directors’ election process, which could get messed up if things change abruptly.
Conference Pandemic Challenges
Honestly, I am quite puzzled why AMUG would proceed with an in-person event at this still-early stage. It’s very clear the pandemic is not over and will not be over for many, many months yet. There are thousands of people dying every day, and hundreds of thousands are still infected each and every day.
With the tremendous number of infected people, the possibility of even worse variants arising is huge, which would be aggravated by travelers taking variants from one region to another.
We’ve all seen the experience of professional sports leagues in recent months, where even with very extensive and rigorous (and expensive) daily protocols there were still infections and many cancellations.
An event like AMUG would not have the same level of rigor as the sports leagues undertook, so one can assume the results could be the same or worse.
AMUG may have issues in attracting attendees, even if the event is legally allowed to occur, since many people are doing their best to reduce contacts and contribute to reducing viral spread. Sure, there are people who don’t care (or don’t even believe in) the virus, but there are more who do.
There’s also the change in venue for this event to consider. The next AMUG was originally set for Chicago, but was instead moved to Florida. Some have suggested this event relocation may have been prompted by that state’s differing policies regarding COVID-19 protocols, as it might not have been possible to host an in-person event in many other jurisdictions. But if that’s the case, then the citizens in those other jurisdictions are effectively being advised by their respective authorities they should not be going to that kind of event. If that’s the case, then why would those citizens travel to Florida?
Personally, I will not be attending for several reasons, not the least of which is that I feel it is still too early to restart in-person events.
First, I’m not allowed to attend, even in normal times. This is because AMUG has a long-standing policy to bar non-partner journalists from attending for perhaps outdated reasons.
Secondly, the event is being held in the US, as it always has been. But this means that non-US attendees (like me) would have to negotiate through different requirements to enter the US and subsequently return home. This could involve paying for COVID-19 tests, as well as lengthy and expensive quarantines on return home that many people would not want to do.
AMUG could have simply postponed their event again, but perhaps there are other reasons behind the scenes pushing them to holding the in-person event. We do know that Dekker is happy to see attendees soon:
“Be well, stay safe, and know that we are anxiously looking forward to seeing everyone in person, albeit behind a mask and at a prescribed social distance, soon!”
Will you be attending AMUG 2021?