SALT LAKE CITY — On Wednesday, in the wake of growing concern over COVID-19 coronavirus, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints made an unprecedented announcement — it will vastly limit the audience of April’s Annual General Conference.
In a statement, the church said that the only people who will attend will be church officials and their spouses, musicians, choirs, technicians, and others as assigned. Anybody else that wants to participate will do so only via computer.
“It’s clearly an unusual move,” said Dee Brewer, the Executive Director of the Downtown Alliance. “The Church is operating out of an abundance of caution.”
And at least right now, Brewer said he’s not concerned about a financial hit due to either the conference change or the other big story affecting travel, COVID-19 coronavirus.
Salt Lake City is a safe destination
At the top of Brewer’s mind is this: “It’s important to note that COVID-19 is not spreading in our community. Salt Lake City is safe, Salt Lake City is a safe destination.”
“We’re focused on messages of prevention and making plans,” Brewer said.
At the time of publication, the Utah Department of Health had confirmed three cases of COVID-19 coronavirus in Utah.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 1,039 people in the U.S. are confirmed to have the virus.
The World Health Organization reports that, as of publication date, there are more than 118,000 cases worldwide.
Nearly 4,300 people have lost their lives.
The financial difference between Conference and conventions
So, no crowds are expected in downtown Salt Lake City for April’s general conference. But Brewer says, restaurants and other retailers shouldn’t worry.
“A typical convention visitor spends $971 while in Salt Lake City,” he said.
That amount covers hotels, dining, entertainment, and shopping.
“A conference attendee,” on the other hand, “is often staying with friends or family, not spending on an expense account, not entertaining other guests like a conventioneer or business traveler.”
Brewer says because of that, the economic impact of general conference is much less, at least comparatively speaking.
Utah Jazz games
The Downtown Alliance is taking direction from Utah health officials when considering other mass gatherings, like games or events at Vivant Smart Home Arena.
“They have the data and science to make a good choice,” Brewer said.
Unlike general conference though, changes to attendance at Jazz home games would hit downtown Salt Lake City businesses hard.
“A Jazz game has a material impact on shopping downtown. They are real drivers of economic growth or success and that would be unfortunate.”