ORLANDO — The Orange County Convention Center (OCCC) hosted the Together Again Expo, which was produced in collaboration with Alliance Nationwide Exposition, to help set the standard for how the exhibitions industry can restart in a safe and responsible manner during the pandemic.
The event followed a hybrid model that allowed attendees and speakers to either participate on-site or virtually.
“We were honored to have played a role in the successful execution of the Together Again Expo,” said OCCC Executive Director Mark Tester. “Gaining widespread industry attention, this event provided hope, optimism and practical solutions at a time when our industry needs it most. This groundbreaking industry collaboration, coupled with our Recovery and Resiliency Guidelines, GBAC STAR accreditation and partnership with Orlando Health, elevates our rigorous protocols and shows our commitment to keeping employees, guests and attendees healthy and safe.”
In order to ensure that participants of the event were safe, the OCCC installed numerous hand sanitizing stations throughout the venue, checked the temperature of all participants as they entered the event, provided Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) kits to attendees and exhibitors, and developed a floor plan that made for effortless social distancing. Thanks to these measures, the Together Again Expo was able to show how safety guidelines could effectively be put in place to create an event that is both safe and successful.
“The Together Again Expo has successfully brought theory into practice, and shown how we can come together again to do business,” said Alliance Nationwide Exposition CEO Mark Yuska. “Touching on themes of safety, recovery and resiliency, we are proud to have connected our industry at this defining moment in history.”
This moment was made up of several discussions on what post-COVID-19 events will look like and how the industry can successfully bounce back to its former glory. One of these presentations was delivered by IAEE president and CEO, David DuBois, CMP, CAE, FASAE, CTA, who spoke about the “Global Outlook for Going Live Safely”.
“It was a privilege to participate in and support the Together Again Expo in Orlando,” said DuBois. “Seeing IAEE’s Essential Considerations for Safely Reopening Exhibitions and Events white paper in action was truly inspiring and shows the dogged determination of the exhibitions industry to get back to the business of live events safely. While we have a ways to go to be fully open again, this event showcased the spirit of our industry and how we can produce events during a pandemic.”
Additionally, two panels were featured at the event. The first, entitled “Re-Open for Business”, included numerous leaders in the exhibitions and events industry who discussed how new procedures can be implemented to ensure that events are safe for exhibitors and attendees. In the second panel, “State of the Industry”, professionals spoke about ways industry stakeholders can act as an advocate for exhibitions.
Other presentations included “Designing for Safe Environments in Our Brave New World” by Sarah Beck and Selina Mullenax of CORT Events; “It’s Your Choice: Leading With Empathy Through Uncertainty” by Shannon Fitzpatrick McDaniel, Vice President, Sales Development at The Expo Group; and “Association and Exhibitor Focus Group Findings: Successfully Moving Forward Now and Post COVID-19” by Jacqueline Beaulieu, HMCC, Director, Strategic Marketing & Client Management of Poretta & Orr.
The event did not just provide a sampling of how post-COVID-19 shows will operate with safety protocols top of mind, it also provided a literal taste of these events — namely the way food and beverage service can be handled to maximize safety while still tickling the taste buds of participants. From preparation to packaging to presentation, OCCC’s Executive Chef James “Chef K” Katurakes gave two live cooking demonstrations where he served up chicken Marsala and cheesecake lollipops.
The Together Again Expo had 1,400 live event participants and 8,225 virtual attendees. In addition, over 250 organizations exhibited at the expo, including companies like United Service Companies, Buckalew Hospitality, Convention Data Services, and Heritage Trade Show Services. Rick Simon, President and CEO of United Service Companies and Chairman of Trade Show Executive, says it was an excellent opportunity for colleagues to become accustomed to attending events again and move the industry forward.
“The impact that the last six months has had on trade shows and events cannot be understated — from show organizers, to trades people, to local economies. Resuming in-person meetings of all types is vital to recovery of our industry,” said Simon. “The information and ideas presented at the Together Again Expo, along with the safety protocols set forth by GBAC, have created a foundation to establish a ‘new normal’ as we move forward. If it’s safe to go to shop at the grocery store, why not shop at the convention center too?”