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Return of the Expo: What Event Owners Need to Know

14 Mar, 2021

By: Mary Helen Sprecher

When Surf Expo staged its winter trade show in the early part of the year at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, it marked the first in-person outdoor industry expo in nearly a year.

As the sports industry continues to reopen, trade shows and expos (which add an additional and by now, much needed revenue stream) will make a comeback as well, particularly as event owners take visible steps to make participants and visitors feel safe.

For the Surf Expo, a global watersports and beach lifestyle trade show that comes to Orlando twice a year, show owner Emerald Expositions told SGB Media that key to the event’s success was following the health and safety protocols instituted by a show in November, the International Gift Exposition Show (IGES). That show took place in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, but the takeaway lessons were invaluable.

Safety measures taken at the Surf Expo included mandatory temperature screenings, face masks, a larger registration area footprint, safety concierges, wider aisles with directional signage, floor stickers, hand sanitizing stations, enhanced cleaning, online notifications, the creation of a safety video, and other steps.

An additional level of comfort, said Surf Expo, was working with partners such as Visit Orlando, general contractor Shepard and the Orange County Convention Center, one of the only convention centers nationwide hosting large-scale trade shows.

While many sports events (one big example is the NCAA DI Men’s Basketball Tournament) are not formally hosting fan fests and other events to coincide with competition, there is every reason those events will return in the future; in fact, the signs are already there. In Utah, The Big Gear Show, an open-air expo for outdoor equipment manufacturers and retailers, has announced it will set up shop in Park City this coming August. The Outdoor Retailer likewise has an August event planned, only in Colorado. The outdoor trade shows, held on areas like golf courses, have created new opportunities, as well as new challenges - but all in all, event owners are glad to be moving forward.

According to the industry blog, Quality Logo Products, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently released new regulations in regards to social gatherings and public events. And that, says QLP, means it’s time to start ramping up plans. For those planning trade shows or expos, QLP provides some hints for success:

Select a Larger Venue (or one that is flexible enough to provide more space: Social distancing will continue to be a necessity, so be prepared to offer more space between booths, wider aisles and a well-defined traffic flow.        

Familiarize Yourself with the Guidance for Your Destination: Work with the venue management ahead of time to avoid any last-minute surprises.

Create a Layout in Advance: This goes without saying but events held post-pandemic are going to require even more planning. Make sure suggested layouts receive the approval of the venue’s management, which has been working with all local guidance.

Events Held Outdoors Require Extra Planning: One of the post-pandemic trends has been outdoor events; however, weather will become a factor. Knowing the weather for the destination at that time (some destinations, for example, might have showers in the afternoon). In addition, the lighting, Internet connectivity and power supply will need to be planned in advance.

Free Face Masks: In January 2021, the CDC released new rules in regards to public gatherings and social activities. This includes:

  • Wearing masks at all times, including on public transportation
  • Maintaining a 6-foot distance from others
  • Staying home if sick
  • Keeping a list of guests for future contact tracing needs
  • Limiting contact with others

Face masks are also a logo opportunity for those exhibiting at the trade show – or for someone who wants to provide branded masks at the door to the event. And while some states do not require them as a whole, there may be additional guidance for individuals counties or cities.

Make Hand Sanitizer Readily Available: Hand sanitizer stations are commonplace now (and are likely to be located in venues like convention centers fieldhouses and arenas) but if you’re hosting your event outdoors or in a nontraditional venue, you may need to make plans to rent or purchase the.

Concessions Require Planning: Many venues are now offering low-contact options for food and beverages that do not involve crowding around a vendor of standing in a line. Many events have moved to offering a number of food trucks with plenty of space between them.

The Surf Expo had a lower than average attendance but, as SGB Media noted, the exhibitors found that those who came were ready to buy. Additionally, neither the vendors nor the attendees viewed the health and safety protocols as burdensome.

Mike Hammes of Buck Wear (an official licensee of Jeep), told SGB Media the rules did not seem to deter anyone from doing business. “It didn’t feel over-the-top or below standards and, in general, people were pretty good about policing themselves,” he said. “Meeting with customers was fine, and everyone seemed pretty self-aware of their social distancing. I felt safe the entire time, and I tested negative upon my return back to Maryland.”

And more than anything else, said Ryan Hewson, owner of retailer Mocean in Cape Cod, the chance to get out and actually meet with others was a welcome change. He told SGB Media it was high time business was back.

“Retailers have been waiting on customers or begging for business since last spring,” he said.

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