Live Business events have returned. Here’s what we’re seeing…

What we’re seeing:

Events are back!  But they are different.

  • Some venues are requiring masks while on the show floor and in meetings.
  • Organizers are also helping manage traffic flow with one-way aisles, and wider main aisles in exhibit halls.
  • There is a pent up demand to be back to face to face events.  “There is simply no replacement for an in-person event.  Virtual just doesn’t hold up when you need to network and stay engaged with your clients.  We participate to be in person with our clients to keep them up to date on what’s new with our organization and new product enhancements.”, states a local client.
  • While participation in some industries may be down, as well as attendance, there is a feeling by some that the level of qualification of attendees is much higher.  There’s more buying power walking these shows now.  Think quality over quantity.
  • Hybrid events and virtual trade shows are here to stay.  Hybrid Marketing Strategy needs to be evolved to meet the engagement demands of folks who can only “attend” an event virtually.  Virtual micro-sites to help engage attendees should be deployed and promoted.
  • Some supply chain and workforce problems do exist.  We’ll cover that down below.


Yes it’s safe to be at these events

Virtual booth
A virtual exhibit landing page can be developed to engage the virtual attendees for an event.

Attendee and exhibitor safety is paramount as we emerge from our isolation and begin traveling again.  Of course this is a personal choice, but in recent research done by Freeman Companies and Epistemix  attending trade shows is less-riskier than other daily activities.

“Based on the data we’ve seen, attending an in-person event is no riskier—in fact, less risky than essential daily activities,” said Freeman CEO Bob Priest-Heck. “Businesses and organizations want to get back to events for critical commerce, networking, and exchange of ideas. This research provides the framework for doing so safely.”

Other key findings include:

  • In-person business event participants are more likely to be vaccinated than the U.S. population, reflecting a vaccination rate above 80 percent and creating vaccination coverage that drastically cuts transmission of COVID-19 at those events regardless of the gathering size.

Despite some concerns over the Delta variant, the majority of attendees and exhibitors want to return to in-person events, and over 90 percent are not opposed to additional health and safety protocols to enable them to gather safely. Further, those who do not support additional protocols say they instead choose to stay home, mitigating any added risks of potential infections.

What to expect

A return to trade shows and live events means that many will need to begin traveling again.  In the travel and hospitality sector there are still many challenges to address.  Airlines are struggling to know how many planes should be in service and how many flights should be scheduled.  The airfare costs are nearly back to what they were pre-pandemic, however many airlines are still offering more flexibility with cancellations and waiving those fees, should you have to cancel.  There are still plenty of hotel options, and some industry experts state that hotel room rates will stay lower than pre-pandemic levels for several years.

Another often-overlooked component of travel is the rental car.  Many travelers reserve their rental cars at the last minute.  This should now be considered a priority as there’s a nationwide shortage of vehicles.  Many rental companies sold off their inventory in the pandemic to cover their overhead and infrastructure costs.  The rebound of that portion of the industry may take several years, so be mindful of your rental car needs early in your planning process.

A busy show floor from Sea, Air, and Space last month in Washington, DC.

Supply chain and service level disruptions continue.  Many Exhibit houses are experiencing shortages of both raw materials, as well as disruptions in transportation.  Pre-pandemic the transportation industry was already struggling with a shortage of trucks as well as drivers.  It continues to be a challenge these days.  Plan for extra time for transport and give your exhibit house ample time to source materials and products for your exhibit.  If you own a large bulky exhibit, consider ways to make it lighter and more modular so you can save on shipping and material handling costs.  Freight costs recently have increased dramatically nationwide.

Labor and workforce shortages continue as well.  Many General Contractors had to furlough much of their staff during the pandemic in order to survive.  Many talented senior-level carpenters, electricians, and laborers have left the industry.  The need for qualified labor on show floors is high.

It certainly has been a challenging 15 (or more) months for the live events industry. Business-to-business sales can likely survive for perhaps a year or so, without trade show exposure, but the value of increased sales will eventually win out relative to costs savings. Waiting until travel fully returns to normal sounds reasonable, but marketers should weigh the cost savings against the benefit from being one of only a few businesses selling your particular products at a show.  As mentioned above, the buying power of current attendees is undoubtedly higher.  There is no replacement for the value of a face to face interaction at a trade show.  This combined with the off-site networking opportunities at dinners and cocktail hours are an invaluable and intangible benefit to participating at a show.