Originally published by Trade Show Executive
As the trade show industry continues to struggle with its most unprecedented disruptor, one thing is certain: these are uncertain times. The biggest realization we are facing from data provided by industry auditors such as the Center for Exhibition Industry Research (CEIR) is that every facet of our industry is having to adapt at an astonishing rate. While the ability to roll with the punches is a required skill set for our industry, I think we can all agree that these past few months have been deeply frustrating.
Yet, we must forge on and face the challenges with creative and innovative solutions because the truth is that we cannot afford to give up. And, we have no reason to give up. CEIR data prior to COVID-19 proves we have a historically strong industry that won’t be disappearing anytime soon. The ongoing question becomes, what are those solutions? From show organizers to vendors to venues to attendees, people want to know what the future of trade shows will hold.
In order to determine that, we must look at the facts we have so far. CEIR has been consistently polling show organizers for the past six months to track the impact of COVID-19 on exhibitions and events, and as you might expect the quickest fact that came to light is that the majority of events planned for 2020 have either been postponed or cancelled.
The consensus among respondents also reflects a shift toward either incorporating virtual components into live events or going with an entirely virtual experience in lieu of an in-person event. While the virtual presence in shows is not necessarily a new concept, its evolution has taken a supersonic turn. And this is where the strength of our industry shines: we possess an incredible talent for adaptation.
Case studies from events such as AVIXA’s InfoComm 2020 reflect that even when faced with the daunting task of shifting from a live event (and all its months of planning) to a completely virtual platform in a mindbending 60 days, it can be done with success! IAEE’s Exhibitions Day 2020 faced a similar challenge and, as I reported last month, the level of engagement spurred across the industry acted as a much needed ray of sunshine breaking through dark clouds.
Our industry has come together in ways that even we could not have imagined were it not for the necessity presented by COVID-19. That is really saying something, too, because we’ve always been a very collaborative bunch! The information sharing that we are seeing among industry stakeholders as we strive to regain our foothold is nothing short of inspirational.
Does that mean we don’t have a ways to go? No. By no means do I want to underplay the hardship that our industry has suffered, or will continue to suffer, until we can level out. As such, we will continue to push hard on our advocacy efforts and build on the headway made thus far.
Does that mean we don’t have a lot of learning left to do? No. Therefore we will continue to tackle this behemoth of a learning curve the industry is navigating. IAEE recently published its Essentials for Safely Reopening Exhibitions and Events which will remain as fluid as our current business environment. The face-to-face marketplace has been around since the beginning of humankind. The role of virtual interaction is an expansion of that, not a replacement. Their symbiotic relationship will require that we devise the safest environments for the physical components to our events, and we are seeing just as much collaboration to address that aspect as we are seeing with adapting the virtual parameters.
This is a very trying time for our industry, but we will see it through. Just like you, I wish I knew how much further we have to go before we can breathe easily again. But we are making significant progress and through ingenuity, collaboration, perseverance and camaraderie I am confident that we will shine even brighter than before.
David DuBois, CMP, CAE, FASAE, CTA
President & CEO