Trade Show Industry Pulse: COVID-19 Update and Predictions

As states begin the re-opening process we take a quick look at the current trade show industry landscape and what we see moving forward.

FILE – This Jan. 11, 2017, photo, people attend the Outdoor Retailer show at the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City. At least two more outdoor companies said Friday, Feb. 10, 2017, they’re following Patagonia’s lead and planning to boycott Outdoor Retailer shows held in Utah because of a push by the state’s political leaders to rescind the creation of the Bear Ears National Monument. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)

In the United States, 2020 started off as a great year for trade shows. At MODdisplays, January was one of our busiest months to date. As the news and outbreaks of COVID-19 spread, many events and companies obviously came to a screeching halt. Most spring events were canceled and many summer events are still up in the air. While we still need to be cautious, there seems to now be some light at the end of the tunnel for exhibitors, manufacturers, and distributors. 

‍In a recent email survey done by Exhibitor Media Group, 72% of exhibiting companies said they plan on returning to trade shows by the end of October 2020. Due to variables such as travel restrictions, budget cuts, limited exhibiting space, we expect to see businesses attend more local or regional shows in 2020 than they did in the past year. Exhibitor Media Group pointed out on a recent webinar that while attendance at shows may be down in 2020, that doesn’t mean the quality of leads will drop. The people attending shows in 2020 are more likely to be serious customers as opposed to just at the event for the experience and giveaways. We at MODdisplays are starting to see an increase in interest as our website visits are now trending much higher than the past couple of months. While these may not be the record-setting attendance numbers we were hoping for at the beginning of the year, they could help make Q4 significantly more profitable for everyone. Of course, these numbers can be volatile based on many different factors such as COVID-19 treatments and new waves of infections.

Custom Printed Masks For Trade Show Staff

When trade shows resume, they will naturally look a little different from when we left. Many convention centers will require exhibitors and attendees to wear masks at all times during the show. Some venues have discussed providing paper masks but it may be a good idea to have more substantial branded masks for your show staff. Expect to see things like temperature checks, hand sanitizing stations, aisle dividers, spacing markers, and new one-way walking patterns. We have also heard that some venues are considering widening their aisles and/or increasing the distance between booths. While it may look and feel a little bit different, it’s these types of protocols that will allow trade shows to open sooner and be safer. Due to these types of new precautions, some countries like Germany are actually distinguishing trade shows separately from standard mass gatherings with fewer protocols in place to protect their attendees (Gabrielle Weiss)

‍Most people want to get back to live shows. Livestream tools such as Zoom ChatSkype, and Google Meet have been useful these past several months to interact with customers. Some events transitioned to entirely digital formats to avoid for their 2020 show. Both of these methods can be effective but live streaming isn’t always ideal and digital events require you to create all your content in digital formats (Forrester). While these methods surely helped in the early part of this year, 78% of people surveyed by Exhibitor Media Group said that digital events are adequate but less valuable or far less valuable than live events. One thing we expect to see more of in the future is hybrid events, combining both live and digital aspects. One key advantage that has come from familiarizing ourselves with new digital platforms is that exhibitors can use these tools to stream live show sessions, show booth experiences, do Q&A chats in the booth, and more with people who were not able to make it to the event (Jacob Thomas). If anything, COVD-19 has demonstrated the value of live shows to many decision-makers and made us rethink how we can connect with each other beyond the show floor or hospitality event. Combining live events and digital offerings will be a powerful combination for many exhibitors moving forward. We’re excited to see shows come back strong and help our clients incorporate the new tools we have to increase their overall impact. 

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