Blizzard Moves on After Battering East Coast Convention Cities

HIL ANDERSON, SENIOR EDITOR
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New York, NY – The trade show industry was busily getting back to business on the East Coast this week after heavy snow blasted the region from New York to Washington, DC.

The storm reportedly scrubbed a handful of smaller meetings, as well as the 2010 Technology Conference and Expo organized by the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) & The Center for Association Leadership in Washington. The snow left roads and highways around the cities impassable and also cancelled scores of airline flights.

The opening of the Motor Trend International Auto Show at the Baltimore Convention Center was delayed by one day to February 12. The storm also cut into attendance at the Philadelphia International Auto Show. The Wildwoods Convention Center was opened as an emergency shelter for residents of Cape May County, NJ.

Once the skies began to clear, it was back to work. Schedules and operations at major venues appeared unaffected even as the residents of their respective cities took another snow day from work to dig out their driveways.

Crews at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center experienced no delays moving in the American International Toy Fair for its February 14-17 run. “The Toy Fair will be opening on time and all operations are running normally and as scheduled,” said Adrienne Citrin, public relations manager for the Toy Industry Association, Inc. The show is no small event. It was ranked 56th on the 2009 Trade Show Executive Gold 100 roster with 361,123 net square feet of exhibit space in 2008. The 2010 event, which is the 107th edition of the show, was expected to span about 350,000 net square feet and draw 30,000 attendees.

Storm Forces Tough Decisions
The decision by ASAE to call off the February 10-12 2010 Technology Conference and Expo was made amid gloomy weather forecasts and dire predictions of a “storm of the century” that would shut down the nation’s capital. In its announcement to attendees and exhibitors, the ASAE said it was taking their safety into account. “We made the decision as early as possible to give you the best opportunity to change your plans,” said the announcement, which was issued through social media outlets as well as on the ASAE website.

The association said it would refund registration, exhibitor and booth fees but would not attempt to reschedule the event.

The ASAE meeting was one of three events snowed out at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. “The first storm hit on a weekend when we were pretty dark,” said Gregory O’Dell, CEO and general manager. “When the last one hit at mid-week, we had two smaller meetings that we hope will reschedule.”

“We have one show now in the building for the weekend and all systems are ‘go’,” O’Dell told Trade Show Executive. “We are fortunate that we were minimally impacted.”

Emergency Preparedness Was Key
The Walter E. Washington Convention Center had a crew of contract workers that promptly handled snow removal during the storm and key personnel were housed in the area to maintain the building. The loading docks were up and running in plenty of time to move in the February 13-15 Capitol Hill Volleyball Classic. “We were very fortunate it didn’t hit during one of our major shows,” O’Dell said.

The storm disrupted a handful of other events in the Washington area. Freeman said it lost one corporate event and a two-person labor call at the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill.

Philly or Bust
The move-in of at least one show went on despite Mother Nature. The Buyers Market of American Craft opened its doors on schedule February 12 at the Pennsylvania Convention Center after a harrowing week in snowbound Philadelphia.

The show, which is organized by The Rosen Group, is a very big deal to scores of artists and craftsmen. Many of them use the gathering to write orders from the retail sector for pieces they will create over the course of the year. So there were plenty of intrepid exhibitors determined to make the trip to the show regardless of the weather. “Out of about 1,000 artists’ studios registered, we only had a small number of cancellations,” said Jean Thompson, marketing director for the show.

Thompson said show management eliminated late fees for exhibitors who could not arrive on time and also did away with the timed move-in system, allowing exhibitors to move in when they got there. “This encouraged them to make plans based on their individual situation since the storm was so widespread and affected every form of public transportation,” she told Trade Show Executive. “Our mantra was, ‘Get here when you can and get here safely.’”

Updates on the situation went out through social media. Artists were also able to network and swap storm stories through Facebook and other sites. “Attendees stuck in airports and train stations found support from each other as they waited in the pubs, bars and cafes for the next available flight,” Thompson said. “Exhibitors also found friends who helped them set up at 3 a.m.”

‘Starving’ Artists
Once the attendees made it to Philadelphia, they ran into the logistical problems inherent in a city that has been paralyzed by weather. The biggest was finding food when restaurants were closed and hotels had minimal staffing. Room service and pizza deliveries were rare and some hotel restaurants had waits up to 90 minutes. “The biggest problem we encountered at the height of the blizzard was that the hotel and foodservice resources were spread too thin,” Thompson said.

By coincidence, the early February blizzards hit during Groundhog Day, when the U.S. learned it had six more weeks of Winter to go. “Weather forecasters are predicting more snow for us next week, but only a couple of inches,” said O’Dell. “Another one or two inches won’t matter.”

Reach Gregory O’Dell at (202) 249-3000 or godell@dcconvention.com; Jean Thompson at (410) 889-2933 x218, or jeant@rosengrp.com; ASAE President and CEO John Graham at (202) 626-2741 or jgraham@asaecenter.org; Marian Bossard, vice president of meetings and events, Toy Industry Association, Inc., at (646) 520-4853 or mbossard@toyassociation.org