Following a brief rush of cancellations in mid- to late September, the pace of bookings for pharmaceutical events quickly resumed.

Christina Culbert, vice president of scientific services for PGI MedCom in New York, the CME unit of event management company PGI, says her division has not seen events canceled. The only short-term change involved substituting a teleconference for an off-site faculty conference two weeks after the attacks. She expects bookings to return to normal early next year.

Hyatt Hotels' Bonnie Weiss, director of pharmaceutical industry sales, reports an “enormous amount” of cancellations for the month following September 11, mainly because a number of companies had imposed travel restrictions. “But they are rescheduling.”

Chris Pentz, CMP, says one of her clients originally postponed a 50-person international team meeting in October for a year, then reconsidered and decided to move it up to January — although closer to home, since more than half of the attendees are U.S.-based.

Pentz, president of Levittown, Pa.-based Pentz Group Communications, adds that another client is also bucking the tide with an upcoming investigators' meeting. Originally, the group had scheduled a videoconference in December; they later decided to meet — in person — in November. According to Pentz: “The company wanted to make sure the personal touch would remain.”

“One definite change we've seen recently is a move toward holding meetings closer to corporate headquarters,” says Tom Muldoon, who heads up the Philadelphia CVB. “We're seeing some pharmaceutical companies book regional meetings here. Some of the biggest users of hotels right now are pharmaceutical companies.”

Susan J. Potton, marketing director, conference services for Princeton, N.J.-based MediTech Media, adds that terrorism apparently hasn't stopped product launches. “If a company has invested millions of dollars in researching and developing a new product, they can't afford to just not promote it, and a big part of promotion is meetings and events,” she explains.

Not Yet Time to Go Virtual

Some planners expected to see corporate clients opting for videoconferencing, webcasting, and other virtual meeting formats, but the rush hasn't started — yet. PGI's Culbert says she has started investigating alternatives, “but so much of our business is dependent on face-to-face meetings that we can't really rely on non-face-to-face methods,” she says.

While security is on planners' minds, it is not an overriding concern because security at pharma events is usually tight. “We always take a close look at the security within the facility. We don't want people walking into meeting rooms who shouldn't be there,” Potton says.

Healthy pharma meetings are a good indication for the pharmaceutical industry, and for the overall medical meeting industry, according to Professional Convention Management Association president David Dubois. “Since they're doing well, the thought is that pharma firms will continue to support other medical meetings at a good level.”