Top U.S. Trade Shows Set to Go On Notwithstanding COVID-19 Outbreak; Mobile World Congress Shares Insight into Its Cancellation

TSE STAFF
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LAS VEGAS — CONEXPO/CON-AGG & IFPE (International Fluid Power Exposition) 2020 began move in last week as scheduled.

The Association of Equipment Manufacturers (AEM) reports the trade shows are projected to break records in terms of exhibit space and attendance when they open on March 10 despite travel bans from China and the COVID-19 outbreak.

“We are tracking to have double-digit growth in attendance, and our exhibit space will be the largest in history,” said Megan Tanel, Senior Vice President, Construction and Utility Sector, AEM.

That’s not to say that COVID-19 isn’t impacting AEM’s trade shows.  AEM is dealing with cancellations from Chinese exhibitors who aren’t able to come to the U.S. because of travel bans. Chinese exhibitors make up about 2% of the show’s nearly 2.7 million net square feet of exhibit space. “We are working on filling those spaces with companies on our waitlist,” Tanel said. “We may not be able to fill all of them at this late date, but we are trying.”

When the triennial show was last held in 2017, CONEXPO/CON-AGG drew 127,995 attendees and 2,375 exhibitors covering 2.6 million nsf. That show ranked No. 1 on the Trade Show Executive Gold 100 Class of 2017.

“Our top priority is focused on the health and safety of all participants at CONEXPO-CON/AGG & IFPE 2020, including attendees, exhibitors, vendors, staff, industry partners, and others involved in the show,” Tanel said. “We are closely monitoring the news and will follow any protocols that are provided by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO). We are encouraging exhibitors and attendees to take common-sense precautions by using hand sanitizer and following guidelines set by the CDC when they are onsite at the show.”

On the attendance side, 1% of registrants were expected to come from China, but some of those will be replaced by representatives from other countries.

AEM is not reporting any declines in attendance from the U.S. or other countries outside of China. “We aren’t seeing any impact from corporate travel bans,” Tanel said. “It’s been great to see our partners come together to support the community. Hotels have refunded deposits, and contractors are offering solutions for those who can’t get here.” She said there have not been issues with shipping or freight delays.

Other U.S. trade show organizers are planning to move forward as scheduled. The Global Pet Expo will take place at Orlando’s Orange County Convention Center, Feb 26-28.

For the last several weeks, show management at the American Pet Products Association (APPA) has undertaken a “complicated, multilayer” response to the coronavirus threat, said Andrew Darmohraj, APPA’s Executive Vice President and COO. “We’re a very international show — 25% attendees come from outside of the U.S.,” he said.

On the immediate logistical front, the show team is working out what to do with 25,000 net square feet of unoccupied space on the show floor — the result of 140 companies based in China that will not be exhibiting at the show.

Foreign nationals who have visited China within 14 days of arriving in the U.S. continue to be barred from entering the United States, but Darmohraj said that one week out from the show, 1,000 companies from 28 countries will be exhibiting and more than 7,000 buyers from 80 countries are expected.

Communicating regular updates to attendees and exhibitors has been a critical part of the process, Darmohraj said. “We’re keeping attendees informed, letting them know we’re working with the convention center to keep them safe and healthy, and that otherwise it’s business as usual with a great show ahead.”

MWC Responds
When Mobile World Congress (MWC) canceled its show that was scheduled for Feb. 24-27 in Barcelona, it was the first major global trade show outside of China to cancel because of the outbreak, and some were left wondering if the MWC cancellation would lead to more.

TSE contacted GSMA as soon as the cancellation was announced on Feb. 11, and the press team responded to our questions via email on Feb. 20.

In 2019, 6% of MWC attendees came from China, with a total of 16% from Asia. The show was expected to attract 2,400 exhibitors, but several high-profile exhibitors, like Ericcson, LG and Nokia, pulled out, citing health and safety concerns. “We had over 2,000 exhibitors remaining, and we could have proceeded with a very good event, but the health and safety of exhibitors came first,” GSMA said in the email.

The association is addressing exhibitor and attendee fees and refunds. “As a not-for-profit organization and the convener of an entire industry and related ecosystem, the implications of this situation are hugely significant for the GSMA,” they said. “We ask for patience as we work through what has happened and formulate proposals, which we hope enable us to maintain our long-term and mutually beneficial partnerships with the entire MWC community. This is our primary focus at this time, we anticipate being able to provide further updates to those affected by March 31.”

GSMA confirmed that its event insurance does not cover the cancellation. “We have full and comprehensive insurance coverage. The exceptional circumstances, which rendered MWC 2020 impossible to deliver, are not covered by insurance policies.”

When asked what advice they would offer other show organizers who may be considering postponing or cancelling their events because of the virus, GSMA responded: “It is for individual companies to complete their own risk assessment. The GSMA cancelled the event due to mounting global concern regarding the coronavirus outbreak, including travel concerns, which made it impossible for the GSMA to hold the event.”

Risk Assessment
An update (https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/summary.html#risk-assessment) on Feb. 19 from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) concurs, stating: “The potential public health threat posed by COVID-19 is high, both globally and to the United States. For the general American public, who are unlikely to be exposed to this virus, the immediate health risk from COVID-19 is considered low at this time.”

For a more global perspective, read this report from World Health Organization published on February 20: https://www.who.int/docs/default-source/coronaviruse/situation-reports/20200220-sitrep-31-covid-19.pdf?sfvrsn=dfd11d24_2

Reach Megan Tanel at (414) 298-4117 or mtanel@aem.org, Andrew Darmohraj at (203) 532-3606 or adarmohraj@americanpetproducts.org; GSMA press at +44 (0)207 356 0600.