Coronavirus concerns moves Long Beach convention mainstay to cancel

Amid growing concerns over the threat of the coronavirus, known as COVID-19, a major international convention announced the cancellation of an annual event at the Long Beach Convention and Entertainment Center, one day before thousands of delegates were set to begin meeting.

The Journal of Commerce announced it was canceling its TPM20 or Trans-Pacific Merchants 2020 conference “in light of growing concerns around COVID-19.” The convention was expected to attract more than 2,200 people from around the Pacific Rim and other regions across the globe. The cancellation will have a significant effect on local hotels since delegates have historically reserved upwards of 5,000 room nights for the conference.

TPM has been a convention mainstay in Long Beach, having held 19 of its last 20 events here in the city.

Fears were likely heightened by today’s announcement of the first COVID-19 death in the United States: a man in his 50s with underlying health conditions died in Washington state.

The TPM20 announcement is another in a growing list of cancellations of all types, all around the world related to COVID-19. The business world, and the industries that rely on serving them, have been particularly hard hit. In just the last couple of days, Facebook’s F8 developer conference planned for early May in San Jose and the Game Developers Conference, scheduled for mid-March in San Francisco, have both been canceled.

While the effects of COVID-19 are being felt worldwide, those in the hospitality industry locally have taken notice. One local hotel employee said they had never seen cancellations on this scale before. Luis Navarro, who owns Long Beach restaurant mainstays Lola’s and Portuguese Bend, says he’s been monitoring the news and trying to protect his business the best he can.

“I called my insurance guy to see if we are covered for something like this,” he said. “I’m not panicking and we haven’t seen an impact yet, but that doesn’t mean it won’t happen. We’re bracing for this.”

Navarro said his restaurants haven’t experienced any drop in business and pointed out that only Portuguese Bend has a significant conventioneer/tourist clientele. His concern, he said, is how he would stay open and pay his employees if concerns become so great that “people start isolating themselves in their homes and not come out.”

He pointed to stories about runs on facemasks at Home Depot and bottled water at Costco as signs that people may be beginning to panic.

“We were out last night in L.A. and it didn’t seem to have an effect,” he said. “A lot of people were just trying to live their lives. But, you wonder if there is a percentage of people who have started to prepare for the worst.”

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