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International Focus: Coronavirus Prompts Tradeshow Cancellations

In Response, UFI & SISO Launch Campaign “This Show Is Open”

by Cynthya Porter

With the number of people infected people approaching 100,000 since the virus emerged in December, the coronavirus, now named COVID-19, is wreaking havoc on the tradeshow industry, causing cancellations and postponements for large gatherings around the globe.

In February, Mobile World Congress Barcelona 2020, the world’s largest tradeshow serving the cellular phone industry, was canceled just two weeks before the doors were set to open, a move show organizer GSMA said was unavoidable. Amazon, Intel, LG, Sony, Ericsson, Nokia, Nvidia and dozens of others had canceled their plans to exhibit at the show in the days preceding the announcement out of fear that the gathering—which typically attracts 100,000 attendees—would promote the spread of the virus among participants from traveling to Barcelona from around the world.

“With due regard to the safe and healthy environment in Barcelona and the host country today, the GSMA has canceled MWC Barcelona 2020 because the global concern regarding the coronavirus outbreak, travel concern and other circumstances, make it impossible for the GSMA to hold the event,” GSMA said in a statement.

Prior to cancellation, GSMA officials had conveyed to attendees and exhibitors virus precaution measures it said would be taken at the show, including masks, temperature screening and exclusion of individuals recently in China. But that announcement spurred a cascade of cancellations among exhibiting companies and attendees alike as panic over the growing number of virus infections spreads.

While Mobile World Congress is the largest show to date to be canceled, it is by far not the only event affected by coronavirus fears. Facebook announced it would cancel its annual Global Marketing Summit scheduled for March in San Francisco and back out of its plan to participate in the Game Developers Conference slated for the same city later that month. The Adobe Summit, originally slated for Las Vegas in March, will be online only. The International Housewares Association also cancelled its show at McCormick Place in Chicago, slated for March 14-17, resulting in a loss of 47,000 hotel room nights for the anticipated 60,000 attendees.

In Asia, organizers are postponing where possible, including Shanghai Fashion Week, Food & HotelAsia-Hotel Restaurant and Café expo and FHA Food & Beverage in Singapore, and the Beijing Auto Show. At press time, nearly 300 shows in Asia have been either postponed or cancelled, nearly 220 in Europe and 10 in the U.S. including the Housewares Show in Chicago, HIMMS in Orlando, Seafood Expo in Boston, Natural Products Expo West in Anaheim, the Materials Show in Mass., and others.

For large companies, the postponement or cancellation of major shows is expected to promote a rise in face-to-face sales calls in an effort to keep the sales funnel full. But for smaller companies without the means for traveling to dozens of meetings, the impact of losing access to tradeshow attendees is expected to be enormously detrimental. Making matters worse for the would-be exhibitors and sponsors of Mobile World Congress, show organizers cited a “force majeure” clause in the contract and said refunds will not be given.

Aside from the economic blow to exhibiting companies who lost their investment in the show plus lost access to the face-to-face marketing opportunity, for cities like Barcelona, losing the influx of more than 100,000 visitors is a devastating blow to the hospitality industry there. The event is estimated to infuse $540 million into the city and provide 14,000 part-time jobs each year.

Paris-based UFI, the Global Association of the Exhibition Industry, and Atlanta-based SISO, The Society of Independent Show Organizers, have launched a campaign called “This Show Is Open.” It supports exhibition and event organizers around the world as they put the industry’s full experience to the task of keeping events going wherever possible, in line with the guidance of health authorities and the interests of their customers.

The campaign launches as the global outbreak of the Novel Coronavirus is challenging societies around the world. As health systems and governments deal with the outbreak, exhibitions and events around the world are being postponed or cancelled where deemed necessary. At the same time, exhibitions and events are one of the core elements to keeping industries and economies going – they are both among the most responsive and resilient economical tools.

More than 2,200 people have died from COVID-19 virus with the number climbing daily, and scientists say it is more contagious and deadly than SARS or MERS, diseases that were also caused by strains of coronaviruses. Though the cancellations and postponements create a domino effect of economic hardship on businesses and communities, health officials say it is so contagious through airborne particles that avoiding contact with potentially infected people is the only demonstrated way to avoid the virus at this time.

Cynthya Porter is a 70-time award-winning journalist recognized by national and international associations for her journalistic expertise in tradeshow topics, travel writing, photography and news. She has covered the exhibition industry since 2011 and, though she makes her home in the Midwest, she travels the world in search of interesting stories and photographs.

This story originally appeared in the March/April issue of Exhibit City News, p. 52. For original layout, visit https://issuu.com/exhibitcitynews/docs/exhibitcitynews_marapr_digital_2020

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