Matt Mullenweg announced this morning that he made the call to cancel the first WordCamp Asia amid concerns surrounding COVID-19, the recent coronavirus strain with over 42,000 reported cases. The virus has caused over 1,000 deaths to date. WordCamp Asia was scheduled to run from February 21-23 in Bangkok, Thailand.
“I’ve arrived at the difficult decision to cancel the inaugural WordCamp Asia event,” wrote Mullenweg. “The excitement and anticipation around this event have been huge, but there are too many unknowns around the health issues unfolding right now in the region to explicitly encourage a large public gathering bringing together over 1,300 people from around the world.”
Mullenweg expressed a desire to explore an online event, possibly live-streaming some of the sessions. However, WordCamp Asia organizers said they will not be able to organize one. “We believe our efforts are now best focused on making the best arrangements necessary to assist all affected participants,” said Naoko Takano, the global lead of WordCamp Asia 2020.
“I greatly appreciate the work everyone — from organizers to attendees, speakers to sponsors — put into making this a big success,” said Mullenweg. “So many people have come together to create an event to inspire and connect WordPressers, and I am confident that this passion will carry through into the event next year. Our thoughts are with everyone affected by the virus so far, and we sincerely hope that everything is resolved quickly so that this precaution looks unnecessary in hindsight.”
Some attendees have already made the trip to Bangkok. Others have purchased non-refundable flights. The WordCamp Asia team will refund all event tickets and will provide a free ticket to next year’s event. Organizers, speakers, attendees, and sponsors should all read WordCamp Asia’s cancellation post for details on any next steps they may need to take.
“While we regret that we will not see you in Bangkok this time, we hope you understand that the organising team is standing by this decision to ensure the safety of all WordCamp attendees,” wrote Takano.
There are no details on when the event will be rescheduled. The team said they hope to hold it in early 2021 and will make an announcement as soon as possible.
Several people expressed their disappointment with the news in the comments on the WordCamp Asia cancellation post, but it better to err on the side of caution with such a large event. The first priority is the safety of all attendees. It was no doubt a difficult decision for all parties involved.
Some of the attendees with non-refundable tickets and those already in the region talked about meeting up in the announcement’s comments. This could be a nice alternative to at least network with others.
WordCamp Europe Sends Open Letter of Unity
In a letter from WordCamp Europe, another regional camp, past and present organizers reached out to the WordCamp Asia team.
“We woke up this morning to the sad news that WordCamp Asia has been canceled,” the team wrote. “We can only imagine what a heart-wrenching and difficult decision this must have been, and how much pain it must be causing you to see something you have poured your hearts and souls into just disappear into thin air.”
Putting together a large, regional WordCamp is a tremendous undertaking that takes 100s of volunteer hours. Events such as these can take a full year of planning and organizing.
“We know how hard it can be to come together across cultures and countries, but that in the end it is worth it because you are one team working together,” wrote the organizers. “You are creating a flagship event and you know that it will bring joy to so many people and that every one of you has been waiting for the day of the event, and for that not to happen despite all of that work and care must be devastating.”
Wordfence to Aid With Lost Fees
Mark Maunder, Wordfence Founder and CEO, announced on the Wordfence blog that his company is creating a $10,000 fund to help attendees with hotel and airline change fees. The company will provide up to $200 in assistance per person, which will be served on a first-come-first-served basis. Maunder stressed that people should try to recoup any losses they can by following the advice on the WordCamp Asia cancellation post first. This will allow them to help as many people as possible.
“Cancelling WC Asia 10 days before it commences is a brutally tough call,” he wrote. “I’ve had the organizers in my thoughts for the past few days knowing, via backchannels, that they’re agonizing over this. This is the right call.”
The aid is available to all WordCamp Asia organizers, speakers, and attendees while there are still funds available. Those in need of assistance can find more information on the fund’s announcement post.
Update – February 12: Wordfence exceeded their $10,000 fund with 94 applicants. GoDaddy Pro stepped in to add an additional $10,000 to the fund, according to a tweet by Maunder.
Update – February 13: Yoast added $10,000, bringing the total to $30,000. At the moment, no additional funding is needed because requests are slowing. If needed, Maunder said he would reach out to others who have made offers to help.