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GBAC Star’s Patty Olinger on the Future of Trade Shows

Frances Ferrante

future of trade showsPARIS — Making people feel safe is the key to success for returning trade shows. That was the conclusion of a recent webinar, part of Swapcard’s two-day Evolve Homecoming online event featuring Andy Johnston, Strategic Account Manager, Swapcard, and Patty Olinger, Executive Director, Global Biorisk Advisory Council.

Technology is a big piece of the puzzle — both back-of-house technology being used by venues and tech developments like Swapcard, the latter which create a touchless experience that provides attendees everything they need on one platform: registration, matchmaking, show appointments and more.


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Olinger pointed to professional sports as an example of successfully executing large live events with no touch points. “They’re utilizing technology to make the experience seamless for everyone: how they order food, where they’re sitting — even how they sit and sitting as a pod, if you are three or four people. They also use contact-tracing technology, in the event that a couple of days later someone tests positive.”

Sports stadiums and arenas were among the first buildings to be GBAC Star-certified, including the Miami Dolphins’ Hard Rock Stadium and the Staples Center in Los Angeles. “We now have 23 of the 30 NBA teams and arenas onboard and all of the major large convention centers,” Olinger said.

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It was a sports group, the U.S. Triathlon, that became the first event group to go through GBAC STAR training. “I’ve had other event groups saying they want to show their clients that they’re paying attention to what’s necessary, so the people who are coming to our events can feel comfortable,” she said.

Among the new tech developments, one U.S. company just got an emergency exemption for antiviral air treatment, a first for the EPA. “We’re seeing surface protectants that are antiviral, not antimicrobial. And new spraying techniques coming into play, even robotics, from a maintenance standpoint. They let you  know that somewhere in your facility, certain materials are being consumed and send an alert, for example, that the hand sanitizer on the second floor needs to be filled,” Olinger said.

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GBAC Star is in the process of organizing a think tank that will discuss what trade shows are going to look like. “I know there was a show in Orlando recently that required that everyone have a COVID test within three days. How do those logistics look, how do they make people feel as they’re coming to the facility, what’s the cost? What do we do to make people feel comfortable and safe as they return to trade shows?” she said.

“Everyone has their part in going back safely. Who should be the head of the planning effort — the venues or the organizer? Or is it a collaborative effort?” said Olinger. “This is a team effort. The venues need to be prepared, the service providers need to understand the requirements, the show organizers need to say what they’re expecting, and we as attendees need to do our part as well by wearing our masks, social distancing and so forth.”

Reach Patty Olinger at (847) 982-0800 or;




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