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In-Person Trade Shows are Back in 2021

It’s time to grab your lanyards, folks—in-person trade shows are back in 2021! The trade show and exhibition industry is worth roughly $11 billion, but it took a hard hit in 2020. This year, things will look a little different. Many trade shows scheduled for the spring and early summer months have been pushed back to the fall and even winter months, with limited capacities, Covid-safe guidelines, and hybrid attendance options. We’re going to take a look at what some in-person attempts looked like this year and how your business can adapt to the altered conditions this season to get the most out of your tradeshow experience.

How’s It Going So Far?

Since the beginning of the year, we’ve seen several organizations have a go at hosting in-person conventions. Many are just a test to see if and how large in-person events can come back.

One apparel-industry trade show, which typically attracts over 50,000 people, only hosted 5,000 attendees in Orlando, Florida. Increased precautions included masks, regular temperature checks, and mandatory Covid-19 tests. On the first day of the event, 18 attendees had positive tests and immediately left the venue. No one reported positive cases after the event. This seems like a good start, right?

On the other hand, a significantly smaller convention in January, Abundance 360, had roughly 100 in-person attendees. Even though the guidelines were similar to the retail conference, with daily Covid tests, there were 24 reported positive cases after the event.

Lessons learned? There is no way to make an event 100% Covid-safe. Those hosting and those attending must understand this—it’s all about risk management. Indeed, hospitality industry executives say they don’t expect trade show numbers to return to normal until 2023.

But there is a light at the end of the tunnel: trade shows are coming back, and it appears they can be done at least somewhat successfully. As more people are vaccinated, and numbers drop, event executives are optimistic that conferences, trade shows, and expos can be held safely.

How to Safely Attend Tradeshows

First, let’s address what exhibit halls and show management companies are doing to keep attendees safe. Contactless options are the primary way to cut down on shared surfaces. Attendees can ask questions, reply in forums, and fill out registration paperwork all on their own device. High traffic areas are also being evaluated, like at registration, to ensure social distancing. Considerations include one-way directional traffic depending on the size of the trade show and the layout of the event center. Additional precautions include temperature checks, PPE, and regularly-spaced hand sanitizing stations.

If you’re considering attending in-person trade shows in 2021, there are some things you should think about.

Of course, maintaining physical distancing and following other CDC guidance can be difficult at larger events, especially when each state has its own protocols. Event attendees should follow standard practices like mask use, physical distancing, and handwashing.

If you’re staffing your company’s booth, be sure you’re well-stocked with sanitizing wipes and sprays (with at least 60% alcohol) so that every contact point can be disinfected prior to meeting your next guest. Sanitizing wipes may also be helpful before touching any high-touch surfaces in the event center, like doorknobs and handles.

Have a Backup Plan if the Show is Cancelled

Especially for large companies, coordinating a presence at a trade show can be a long and complex process. Because many of these events are subject to change or cancellation due to the uncertainty of the virus, you need prepare. Alternatively, if you need to back out of a trade show for any reason, be sure you’re aware of the show’s cancellation policies. Coordinate with your logistics and shipping partners and be sure to maintain communication with the show and its affiliates to make decisions with the most up-to-date information.

A New Development: The Covid-19 Passport

The newest topic of discussion in the trade show world is Covid-19 passports. Covid-19 passports are essentially tools that give event organizers a streamlined way to scan attendees, vendors, and employees before entering an event. The passport would include information like recent Covid-19 test results and if the participant’s Covid-19 vaccination record.

Vaccination cards have become a necessity for entrance to some venues and events—a currency of sorts. Having a Covid-19 “passport” will likely grow to possess the same value as a vaccine card.

Health professionals, lawmakers, business leaders, and ethicists are split over whether these passes should exist and how they should be used. Aside from concerns about sharing health information, this stems in part from the fact that existing vaccine cards are simple pieces of paper, in no way designed to avoid fraud. Plus, each country has its own version of the vaccination card. Government officials are looking to implement more official methods of validating vaccinations and other Covid-related health items, though some states, like Alaska, Texas, Idaho, and Arizona, have moved to restrict the use of vaccine passports.

What does this mean in the trade show world? Digital Covid-19 passports could become an entry requirement to such events. Of course, any such software would have to be HIPAA and GDPR compliant and encrypted to protect the attendees’ data.

The world has already changed so much in the past year, but there is more transformation yet to come—repercussions that we can’t fathom yet. Those attending trade shows in 2021 should beware that this change is on the horizon when it comes to safely attending large events.

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