As the Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, and Pfizer- BioNtech Covid-19 vaccines become widely available, enough to cover every American adult by the beginning of May according to the White House, many large trade shows remain tentatively scheduled to make their 2021 return this summer and second half of the year.
Currently TSNN.com is showing the June 7th - June 10th World of Concrete show in Las Vegas as having roughly 1,500 exhibitors and over 60,000 attendees, making it the first American hosted event of that size since the COVID-19 outbreak in March of 2020.
The Las Vegas trade show union is cautiously optimistic as they make sure all of their members have updated certifications with the hope large shows are right around the corner. Of course, Nevada would still need to increase the total maximum number of people at large capacity gatherings by June for this to be possible.
“Vegas is a Ferrari. Trade shows and conventions are the engine. Until the engine is put back in the Ferrari, the Ferrari isn't going to go very far,” said Tommy Blitsch, principal officers for Teamsters Local 631.(article)
Fortunately for the City of Las Vegas, the Las Vegas Convention Center and Visitors Authority (LVCVA) is currently seeing a promising outlook for the remainder of the year. It may not be quite at the pre-pandemic level because of travel restrictions but it’s at least a big step in the right direction.
“We may see lower attendance early on. Any shows that attract international exhibitors or attendees. Right now with those travel restrictions, we won’t be able to welcome international guests,” said LVCVA spokeswoman Lori Nelson-Kraft.(article) Although there may be a lag with international guests, Mrs. Nelson-Kraft also said that “Our convention calendar is robust throughout the remainder of this year and into 2022 pending the fluid state of the pandemic." (article)
The LVCVA is not the only Vegas venue seeing a positive trend. Wynn Resorts Ltd. said they had “about 70,000 convention room nights on the books for the second half of the year — “about the same” levels as 2019. In a more long-term view, the CEO and Chairman of Sands Corp., Robert Goldstein, said demand for conventions between 2022 and 2027 is “unbelievable.”(article)
In other cities like Atlanta, we are starting to see even more signs of a major trade show comeback. In 2020, International Market Centers (IMC) served roughly 90,000 people with over 13 market events in Atlanta and Las Vegas. The 2021 Spring Market at AmericasMart in Atlanta took place March 1st through the 5th. This show saw a 34% increase from its 2020 totals. What's more impressive is that this event also saw a 7% increase from it’s totals in 2019.(article)
People are ready to get back to live shows in 2021, as long as they feel it can be done safely. "A January study from the LVCVA found 91 percent of the 510 surveyed business travelers miss the face-to-face interactions that come with in-person conferences, conventions and trade shows. Fifty-eight percent said they felt burnt out from virtual business meetings and conferences." (article)
What To Expect When You Go Back
Trade show organizers, convention venues, and resorts are taking health and safety protocols seriously as in-person meetings start to resume. This is evident in the number of large convention venues such as the LVCVA, The Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, The Javits Center in New York City and many more that have earned their GBAC Star Certification in 2020. For a more complete list, please visit this link.
The Global Biorisk Advisory Council (GBAC) Star Certification is an annual cleaning, disinfection, and infectious disease prevention certification program. In order to be a GBAC Star certified facility, you must be able to “demonstrate that correct work practices, procedures and systems are in place to prepare, respond, and recover from outbreaks and pandemics."(GBAC Guidelines)
In addition to the beefed up cleaning and disinfecting practices, you can expect that sanitizer stations, barriers, masks, updated traffic patterns, increased air flow, and social distancing will likely remain a visible part of the trade show experience for the foreseeable future. For example, The World of Concrete event in June has a COVID-19 Resource Center page along with the Informa AllSecure Safety Protocols page the show will abide by listed on the event homepage. When it comes to safety, an event can’t be over prepared. Taking changes slowly and in accordance with federal, state, local, and independent health sources will go a long way to ensure exhibitors and attendees feel comfortable returning to live events.
Pre-Event Health Screenings
In 2021, you will likely have more pre-show requirements than what you were used to in years past. In order to get your badge at many post-COVID trade shows, you will likely need to answer a few simple questions and have your temperature taken. Quick health screenings like temperature scans are being used by exhibit halls already, but may become more important when large gatherings resume.
As vaccinations become more common in the next couple of months, it’s possible that events, resorts, and venues will require proof of vaccination before they allow you to enter a show or select facilities. In some instances, in lieu of a vaccination, proof of a recent negative test may suffice. While there are some legal concerns on what venues can and cannot ask for, don’t be surprised if this is a practice that catches on and stays around for a while, especially at upcoming large international events. (article)
The Role of Virtual Meetings Digital
Virtual meetings have proven to have value during the pandemic, and trade show organizers are already discussing ways to keep some digital elements integrated into their events. Even when in-person meetings have fully resumed, the opportunity to engage more visitors with a virtual event is too good to pass up. Expect integrated events moving forward, with in-person meetings complimented by virtual meetings to maximize engagement.
One example of a live show taking advantage of virtual tools would be events offering virtual options for seminars, lectures, and classes. By offering a digital option, your entire sales team could join in on a speaker session or class hosted live at the event while select members of your company are exhibiting or attending the entire in-person show.
Don’t be afraid to go virtual yourself at the live event. Start by making sure you have strong wifi in your booth. If you do have wifi, don’t be afraid to set up a Facebook live session from your booth to show off your brand new product or explain your new mobile app. Post photos and videos on your social media channels regularly throughout the day and encourage questions. Also, consider setting up Zoom calls with clients outside of the event if your staff or their team is not comfortable sitting in a restaurant or hotel lobby to discuss business options. Just remember that events are steadily becoming hybrid and you should too.
The exhibit floor is the focal point, but trade shows are a nexus of interconnected events including product demonstrations, lectures, meetings, focus groups, and more. Many of the mini-events that occur around a trade show - official or unofficial - take place at restaurants and hotels. The health and safety protocols adopted by the hospitality industry will play a role in trade show marketing strategy going forward.
The GBAC Star Certification discussed above is also applicable to restaurants, hotels, and retail space to name a few, so maybe look for locations that have earned that certification. Hospitality companies like Marriott for example have created and adopted new policies such as the Marriott Global Cleanliness Council based on health professionals advice. This new set of policies focuses on key areas such as contactless transactions, using hospital grade cleaning supplies on high traffic and flat surfaces, and providing guests with necessary tools such as sanitizer and cleansing wipes. Dr. Thomas Russo, chief of the division of infectious disease at the University at Buffalo, points out that spaces posing the most potential problems are high-traffic areas such as hotel check-in desks, elevators, and lobbies.(article)
If you aren't comfortable with staying at a hotel, consider an AirBNB or rental property. You can sterilize high-traffic surfaces like door knobs, remotes, toilet handles, and faucets yourself while avoiding the crowded lobby and elevator areas. Remember to wipe down flat surfaces especially because germs tend to collect there more than other areas. You can also schedule meetings with clients either at this property or at a location your staff feels more comfortable with.
Restaurants can be a tricker proposition right now from a confidence standpoint. Many restaurants are doing everything they can to keep you safe including social distancing groups, limiting their seating capacity, offering sanitizing options on the table, having their staff wear masks, and more. Additionally, if possible, many restaurants have added or opened more outdoor seating options. Whether your staff or your clients feel comfortable sitting indoors without a mask for a dinner or happy hour is something you will need to consider as we start easing back into the live trade show circuit.
When you and your team are attending a lecture, class, or networking event, double masking can be an effective way to protect yourself from potential germs. Layering and making sure your mask fits tight has proven to limit your exposure to droplets. (CDC Guidelines)
Flexibility is Key
As with 2020, there are still unknowns in the trade show industry. We’re seeing a lot of positive signs and we all want to get back to our favorite events to meet new contacts, grow our businesses, and see old friends. These next few months especially will be somewhat fluid in regards to show schedules, attendance, adapting to new policies, procedures, and how we interact in large groups. Maintaining our patience and flexibility will be key to ensuring the continued growth of trade shows. We also must be willing to adapt to new opportunities and use what we learned in 2020, in regards to virtual communications, to supplement and build on what traditional shows have been in the past.
The event industry will come back strong and many believe it will be sooner rather than later. These first few phases back will be a little awkward and foreign to us. In the end, It’s likely the new blended style of in-person and virtual events will be more successful than either just in-person or virtual events were on their own. We believe we’re closing in on a big second half of 2021, we just have to be patient and stay diligent.