Are in-person trade shows safe (enough)?

Discussion
Photo: Consumer Technology Association
Dec 30, 2021

With vaccination rates escalating, in-person trade shows were supposed to make a roaring comeback in 2022, but the fast-spreading variant is threatening to ruin the party.

Just before Christmas, Amazon, Facebook and Twitter announced they were canceling plans for a physical presence at CES, tech’s mega show to be held in Las Vegas from January 5 through 8. Similar moves followed from T-Mobile, Google, Microsoft, Intel and numerous other tech giants.

Attendance was already expected to be about 25 to 40 percent of the last CES show held in 2020 due to pre-omicron concern over in-person events, foreign travel restrictions and the impact of chip shortages and shipping delays on products.

The Consumer Technology Association (CTA), the show’s organizer, contends vaccination and masking requirements, the availability of COVID tests for attendees and the lower attendance will help ensure safety. CTA also said that, as of Monday, the exhibitor cancellations made up less than 10 percent of the show floor and that medium and small exhibitors count on CES to drive business.

“CES will and must go on,” Gary Shapiro, the CTA’s president and CEO, wrote in a column on Christmas in the Las Vegas Review-Journal. “Certainly, it will be different from previous years. It may be messy. But innovation is messy. It is risky and uncomfortable.”

CES represents the first show of the trade show season. Many other show organizers, exhibitors and attendees will be reassessing plans in the weeks ahead.

In a press release issued December 21, NRF said, with nearly one month left before the return of its in-person Big Show in New York City, the total number of exhibitors and square footage of exhibit space exceeds totals for NRF 2020. NRF said vaccination and mask requirements will now be supplemented by additional investments in health and safety measures, including on-site COVID-19 and PCR tests.

Matthew Shay, NRF’s CEO, said in a statement, “We are encouraged by conversations with our partners in the state of New York and New York City who support our efforts, and together we are committed to making this a safe and successful event.”

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Are you or your team planning on attending, exhibiting or speaking at trade shows in the coming months? If so, what precautions are you taking and do you have any recommendations for or requests from trade show organizers?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"Some will attend. But without a doubt it won’t be the roaring return to normal everyone hoped for."
"I think 2023 will be the year of a big rebound in attendance at trade shows. At least, I hope so."
"I plan to attend NRF 2022 but, if flights are cancelled, it may be beyond my control."

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18 Comments on "Are in-person trade shows safe (enough)?"


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Bob Phibbs
BrainTrust

I’ll be in NYC for NRF since I’m vaxed and boosted. Anyone else should be required to be as well. Having just returned from a keynote in Dubai I can tell you international travel is a lot of stress so I expect successful attendance will teeter on how many are willing to go through all the hoops and uncertainty. Having just been in Manhattan last week to see Book of Mormon again, I felt safe and protocols were clear.

Dave Wendland
BrainTrust

Jumping through the required hoops is likely the “new normal,” Bob. For those willing to go the necessary lengths to protect themselves and others, attending trade events and travel, in general, should not become negotiable. These are necessities to the success of businesses and for the innovation that emerges.

Dave Wendland
BrainTrust

I’m eager to get back on the speaker circuit presenting, moderating, and sharing insights. The challenge – which goes without saying – is the uncertainty of whether events will actually occur and if any attendees will feel comfortable showing up. Despite my pivots to virtual presentations and the Executive Roundtables that I hosted throughout 2020/21, nothing replaces the interaction, networking, and feedback that comes from in-person trade conferences.

As for precautions, trade show organizers should be aware of spatial precautions, mask requirements and, potentially, proof of vaccination. For attendees – including myself – I’ll do the best I can by masking, hand-washing, and social distancing where possible. That said, no precautions are fail-safe and the show must go on!

Rich Kizer
BrainTrust

Look at the picture at the top of this story and look at the guy at the far right. I can guess how he feels. Now to a very serious issue. If all attendees and exhibitors follow safety precautions seriously, I think the risk of problems is minimized to a high degree.
Georganne and I are attending conventions this January and forward. I think after the knowledge of what actions we must take to be safe are firmly embedded in all attendees’ and participants’ minds and actions, we have a good shot at seeing a convention revival starting this January.

Dave Wendland
BrainTrust

I love the way you suggest proper “actions must be firmly embedded” for attendees’ and participants’ alike. I look forward to crossing paths with you and Georganne in 2022.

Be safe and happy New Year, Rich.

Georganne Bender
BrainTrust

Backatcha, Dave!

Liz Crawford
BrainTrust

There is no doubt that many attendees will be canceling in early 2022, in spite of protocols. Some will attend. But without a doubt it won’t be the roaring return to normal everyone hoped for.

Al McClain
Staff

Trade show organizers will need to be willing to enforce mask and vaccine requirements. I’ve already heard of convention attendees who are planning to travel to shows with fake vaccine documents. As self-defeating and dishonest as that is, some anti-vaxxers will not let that stop them.

For individuals, it all depends upon their level of risk tolerance, for themselves and their family members. Some are immuno-compromised or can’t be vaccinated for some other reason. So, the only safe thing to do in that situation is to stay home. For the older age group, it all depends upon how comfortable they are being near others who may or may not wear their masks properly, or at all. For companies, it all depends on how badly they need to be there for business, and how much risk they are going to require their employees take on their behalf.

The numbers in NYC at the moment are not good, with 30% of EMS workers out sick.

David Naumann
BrainTrust

Well said Al! There is another issue that will impact attendance that has nothing to do with intent. With COVID-19 cases causing employees to call in sick, it will continue to wreak havoc on the transportation industry as we saw during the holidays with thousands of flights cancelled. I plan to attend NRF 2022 but, if flights are cancelled, it may be beyond my control.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest

I guess the alternate take on this is I’d rather risk death than miss a Trade Show … What devotion!

Bob Amster
BrainTrust

I will be at the NRF conference this January. I will take all the precautions necessary and I trust that so will everyone else in attendance. If they are not, I will turn around and exit.

Georganne Bender
BrainTrust
My business/speaking partner and I make a big part of our living as speakers so we are looking forward to trade shows returning to normal sometime soon. Presenting virtually is fun because there are two of us speaking together, but there is nothing like having a three-way conversation with a live audience. Rich and I have presented live at six trade shows since August. Each one required masks and social distancing and they were serious about it. Meeting planners are on high alert. One even had speakers leave their breakout rooms after each session so every surface could be sprayed with some sort of sanitizer. And they all provided green, red, and yellow bracelets for attendees to wear that indicated how they felt about hugs and handshakes. Are we hesitant about attending live events? A little, and a lot of that hesitation comes from where the event is being held and how that area/state handles COVID-19 precautions. But we are vaccinated and boosted and follow all the necessary precautions. And we hope that the people… Read more »
Lee Peterson
BrainTrust

I am going to NRF but waiting for the cancellation to come in. They are taking all the right precautions, but it may not be entirely up to the organizers as the Javitz Center is run by the State of New York. We shall see, but we definitely have our hands on the rip cord.

Allison McGuire
BrainTrust

Adapting trade shows in 2022 and beyond to offer a virtual component for those not comfortable attending helps us all to move forward in a positive direction. This is what we do as a society, we have road blocks and we find ways to work around them. I’m hopeful that we can attend shows again this year in a safe and joyful state.

Zel Bianco
BrainTrust

We sponsor at the Category Management-Shopper Insights Conference every year and that is where we get most of our leads. Prospects spend time at our booth and attend our break-out sessions where we have a client present with us. I was so hoping that the show scheduled for late February will take place, but that is looking increasingly doubtful. Last year, it was a virtual show and no matter how much effort is put in by the planners, it just does not live up to the promises. People want to deal face to face with each other, even if we will be wearing masks for the foreseeable future.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest

11%? The Poll results don’t bode well.

John Karolefski
BrainTrust

Attendance will certainly be down at major trade shows even if health and safety measures are taken and encouraged. I don’t think walking around wearing a mask makes for an enjoyable experience. But young and strong execs will attend, while the senior crowd will be cautious, and rightly so. I think 2023 will be the year of a big rebound in attendance at trade shows. At least, I hope so.

Brian Cluster
BrainTrust

We will be at NRF this year with a large contingency. They have instituted many precautions including the Clever app which gives me more confidence. If any of the other BrainTrust folks are attending, I would welcome the opportunity to meet up.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"Some will attend. But without a doubt it won’t be the roaring return to normal everyone hoped for."
"I think 2023 will be the year of a big rebound in attendance at trade shows. At least, I hope so."
"I plan to attend NRF 2022 but, if flights are cancelled, it may be beyond my control."

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