We’re all dealing with the effects of the COVID-19 Coronavirus. Work, play, daily activities and more are all curtailed or affected. It seemed like last week put us on the precipice of something that we’re not quite ready for. In this week’s TradeshowGuy Monday Morning Coffee, I share a few observations on what I’ve seen.
Here’s the ongoing, probably mostly up-to-date database of events and tradeshows that have been cancelled or postponed: On Location
In this week’s TradeshowGuy Monday Morning Coffee, I wanted to see how companies that rely on the tradeshow and event industry are doing. Friday afternoon I invited a handful of them to chime in to see how they’re working to deal with tradeshow cancellations and the upended event landscape. Guests include Kevin Carty of Classic Exhibits, Marcus Vahle of Share Experience Company and Andy Saks of Spark Presentations.
Shout out and thanks to all to participated, including Stacy Barnes of Eagle Management, who also passed along her thoughts which are included in the program.
This week’s ONE GOOD THING: the positive, upbeat “can-do” attitude of all that I have spoken to in the event industry, including partners, colleagues and clients, who all are working hard and planning on how to deal with the situation to make the best of it.
I just got an email a few moments ago, the first exhibitor
at NAB (National Association of Broadcasters), saying they were withdrawing
from the upcoming event, scheduled in Las Vegas April 18-22, 2020.
So far, there’s nothing on the show website that indicates they are even considering postponing or cancelling the show over coronavirus concerns.
This is somewhat reminiscent of the way things played out, albeit in a very quick fashion, at Natural Products Expo West. A week before the show was scheduled to start, Unilever announced they were pulling all of their brands, including our client Schmidt’s Naturals. Other exhibitors followed in short order, one by one, over the next few days. Show organizers tried to put on a brave face and keep the show afloat, and that made sense at the time, since the show was literally hours away. But finally, about 40 hours before the doors would have opened for the first day, they pulled the plug, saying the show was “cancelled.”
No one really knows exactly what to do.
In the past few days, here are a few things that have passed through my newsfeed: NBA is considering holding games without audiences. March Madness may consider the same thing, but so far they say the games will go on in front of live audiences. Rock concerts are wondering if they can go forward. Some schools and universities have gone to online classes, including (at least) Harvard. SXWS pulled the plug, leaving numerous small businesses out in the lurch. Lots of restaurant and clubs in the area will lose tons of money as will their servers, bartenders, hotel workers and more.
CPAC, the conservative annual gathering, is making news because a so-far unnamed high-profile person has been confirmed to carry the virus, someone who has come into contact with dozens if not hundreds of people. Many of those have had contact with members of the Trump Administration, including the president himself. Some of those confirmed to have had contact with the carrier have self-quarantined, others have not.
The story is fast-moving and given the changing and
increasing numbers of cases and deaths from COVID-19, more and more people are
acting out of caution.
The event industry is squarely in the bullseye. Rightly so,
since events draw together tens of thousands of people who shake hands, hug,
share rides on public transit, climb on planes and buses, cabs, ride services.
That’s a lot of contact.
And again, no one really knows what to do, but more and more
decisions are being made to err on the side of caution.
Just this morning, I read that Chinese President XI visited Wuhan, the city at the center of the COVID-19 outbreak, as a show of confidence that the Chinese government is containing the outbreak. The story also mentions how the rate of infections is slowing, which must be good news for officials around the world trying to get a handle on everything. But still…
The coronavirus will continue until governments and health
officials get a handle on it. Events will be postponed and cancelled until
things settle down.
And who knows how long that’ll be?
I think the event and tradeshow industry is in for a bumpy ride.
A week before Natural Products Expo West 2020 was set to open, I got an email from one of the tradeshow exhibit houses handling brands for Unilever, which had several brands at Natural Products Expo West and had acquired one of our clients, Schmidt’s Naturals, a couple of years ago. They had made the decision to pull out of the show due to concerns over the spreading Coronavirus COVID-19.
A day later, another client pulled out. Then another. Then another. By Monday the 2nd, when I was set to fly out to the show from Portland, I had one client out of nine that was still planning on being there. My plane was scheduled to fly out at 5:30. As I sat on the tarmac after boarding, I got an email from the last client that they had decided to pull out. By now, I was seeing on Twitter that as many as 40 – 60% of exhibitors and attendees would probably not show up, making the show a shell of its former self.
Finally, a few moments before wheels lifted, New Hope, the show organizers, sent out an email saying that they had decided to “postpone” the show.
And away we flew.
The next morning, I went to the Anaheim Convention Center with hundreds of other exhibitors and logistics managers to work through the logistics of getting crates shipped back to where they came from. Some crates had made it to the show floor. Some exhibits were already mostly set up.
It took most of the day to track down all the pieces of the clients that had items that needed to be shipped back.
A shoutout to the crew at the GES Service Desk at the Anaheim Convention Center. To a person, they were all cordial, pleasant and extraordinarily helpful.
We all wondered when the event would actually take place. Maybe not until next year?
A Few Thoughts and Questions
I’ve had the chance to speak to several people at the show, along with clients who had to bail or were forced to retrieve crates and packages, clients that had invested in the show with updated exhibits or in some cases, new properties.
No one knows what comes next. Not the exhibitors, not New Hope, which put a positive spin on it, saying “It is our intention to deliver a Natural Products Expo West event before the summer to serve the community, either in Anaheim or a suitable alternative location.”
I don’t see that happening, and neither do most of the exhibitors I spoke with. New Hope is obviously the professional experienced entity that has put on shows for decades. But exhibitors and others are asking where and when such a re-scheduled Expo West 2020 might take place? And if they can find a place that would accommodate the event, how many exhibitors would actually be able to show up, given that companies spend months putting things together to schedule an appearance at a large international show like Natural Products Expo West?
So yes, lots of questions.
But the big one for me is: if they manage to find a location and date that fits, what would change in the situation that would allow the show to go on?
And by situation, I mean the spreading Coronovirus. According to Worldmeter, the virus continues to spread unabated. Experts say we’re a year to a year and a half from having an effective vaccine. Many people seem to still be in fear mode over the spread.
But not everybody. I do believe that the essence of Natural Products Expo West is that, being a food sampling platform, it’s much different from say, a technology tradeshow. Many, if not most, non-food tradeshows are going forward. People still gather by the tens of thousands at events. People still board flights, go to grocery stores.
And the number of those infected keeps increasing, and will likely continue to increase.
Back to the original statement: the underlying situation has not changed, and doesn’t look like it will change in the near future which would allow a rescheduled Expo West to take place “before summer” as New Hope states. Given that, if nothing changes, I don’t see a rescheduled event taking place before mid-June.
In fact, if nothing changes, it’s quite possible the same issues may lead to a postponement or cancellation of Expo East in September in Philadelphia. Yet to be seen, obviously.
If the underlying Coronavirus situation doesn’t change, the only other thing that might change is the attitude and knowledge. We might learn more in the ensuing weeks and months that the virus isn’t as dangerous as the ongoing fear promulgated in lots of big media outlets would have us believe. Company leaders might come to realize that the risk of having their people at a show as either exhibitors or attendees is so low that a prudent decision would have them participating.
Other shows go on with no problem. Will Natural Products Expo West or Expo East continue this year?