How to safely return to trade shows: What to expect post-COVID.

Governments are currently trying to balance two priorities, getting economies running again, and managing the health crisis. The latter objective has placed trade shows in a problematic position. In Canada, as of June 2020, large gatherings remain prohibited.

Over the years, we’ve spoken to countless people who will agree that trade shows are critical to their company’s marketing and sales. They are the number one platform for companies to sell and source, reach clients, and to generate growth. They support the economy worldwide and should be a key element to every economic recovery plan.

It’s been difficult for many businesses to adjust to not having them as part of their marketing strategy in 2020. Right now, there is a lot of positive work being done behind the scenes. The exhibition industry has been in dialogue with governments, working hard to create guidelines for reopening business events. We’ve recently seen publications from Europe and the United States, and in early June, the Canadian Association of Exposition Management released their safe reopening guidelines as well. These guidelines support the industry’s efforts to create a clear and consistent framework for trade show providers. They are encouraging the Canadian government to reopen events knowing that protective measures are in place so that attendees are safe in post-COVID conditions.

The CAEM reminds us at a glance of the economic impact of exhibitions.

  • Exhibitions drive economies.
  • Exhibitions mean jobs.
  • Exhibitions versus mass gatherings.
  • Exhibitions create business.

Fortunately, exhibitions occur in a controlled environment, which allows for effective health and safety measures to be put in place while maintaining a positive and productive experience for exhibitors and attendees.

What are some of the changes you may see from show organizers and venues?

  • Increased hygiene, disinfection plans and safety measures.
  • Administration of health screening tests before allowing entry.
  • Installation of hand washing and sanitizing stations.
  • Posted “no-contact” policies (we shouldn’t shake hands quite yet!).
  • Increased frequency of waste disposal.
  • Updated show transportation and logistics policies.
  • Increased on-site signage for identifying physical distancing, public health reminders, and cleaning protocols.
  • Ensuring the safety of personnel and personal safety with density management and traffic flow initiatives. For example, wider aisles and one-way traffic in the aisles. 
  • Improved barriers and floor markings for better flow of people in all areas, including parking lots, foyers, and venue access points.
  • Posted maximum capacities for spaces, especially in small spaces such as elevators, washrooms, and food service areas.
  • Maintaining distances between seating areas for conferences, restaurants, and rest areas.
  • Managing the number of exhibitors and their staff on-site throughout the events.
  • Increased pre-event communication and acknowledgment of requirements to exhibitors and attendees.
  • Extended visiting hours to enable more people to visit throughout scheduled time slots. 

What can exhibitors do to be proactive as they plan for their next event?

  • Design a booth with surfaces that are easy to clean and wipe.
  • Display their products so that they may be seen and observed but don’t need to be handled by visitors.
  • Design product demonstrations to minimize or eliminate the need for attendees and staff to handle products.
  • Use partitions or sneeze guards on reception counters and podiums or place tables between staff and attendees to increase physical separation.
  • Implement a rule that no more than two people be in your booth space at a time.
  • Limit the number of your staff in your exhibit space at one time.
  • Pre-arrange meeting times with attendees if possible.
  • Create a physical entrance and exit to your area to encourage one-way traffic flow.
  • Provide hand sanitizer for staff and attendees in an easily accessible location.
  • Increase your pre-event communication and messaging as part of your marketing strategy. Use social media and email to promote booking meetings, communicating product features, or new initiatives that your company is taking to ensure attendee safety.
  • Consider no-touch technology in your display to encourage touch-free learning.
  • Send your brochures digitally.
  • Keep cleaning supplies on-hand, i.e., wipes and spray disinfectant for scheduled cleaning of your booth space and display throughout the event.
  • Be proactive and create criteria and enhanced safety guidelines for your staff to follow throughout the event. Include these in your pre-show communications to stakeholders to build confidence amongst participants.

Balancing the economic impact of trade shows with the requirement for increased health and safety measures will be a challenge. For an industry that is accustomed to adaptation, although it faces several future hurdles, you can be assured that there is a framework for best practices that will allow the trade show, exhibitions, and event industries to lead the way to economic recovery next year and beyond.

The entire industry is working hard to ensure that attendees are safe so that they may continue establishing connections, sharing expertise, doing deals, and restarting the economy.

How are you planning for trade shows in the future?  Let us know!

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