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SMTExpo’s Scott Lebwohl Q&A on Creating a Safer Exhibit Environment

Below is the Q&A that followed the January 27 Exhibitor Insight Webinar, “Creating a Safer Exhibit Environment: Reassuring Exhibitors and Attendees So They Return.”

by Scott Lebwohl, February 16, 2021

Questions (and Answers) Submitted by Audience Members

Important Note: Because the COVID-19 pandemic is dynamic and constantly changing, some answers such as the need for face masking, social distancing and frequent hand washing and other mitigating measures are subject to change, if and when, the pandemic is neutralized as the result of mass vaccinations and natural evolution. Thus, it may not be necessary to reconfigure existing booth configurations and to radically redesign trade show floors to achieve social distancing.

  1. What safety measures can be put in place for small booths (10×10, 10×20)?

Aside from the standard measures (such as face masking, social distancing and, frequent hand washing), you are responsible for wiping down contact surfaces, so pack spray-on disinfectant and paper towels. Important note: Consult with the manufacturer of your custom booth about permissible disinfectants that will not mar or streak printed graphics.  Reduce the number and type of amenities and only dispense them individually by hand. Dispense with serve-yourself items especially food and drink. If you request guests to complete paperwork, provide pens from a dispenser labelled “Clean Pens” and provide a depository labelled “Used Pens” for guests to use to return pens. Wipe all used pens with cleanser before placing them back in the “Clean Pens” dispenser.

Reduce all items possible that will restrict safe occupancy of your booth such as tables and chairs, pop-ups, large product samples. The guideline suggested by the Exhibition Services and Contractors Association (ESCA) is to divide gross booth square foot by 28.3 (a six foot distance equates to a circle of 28.3 square feet) to meet the standard 6-foot space distance. For example, a 10’x10’ booth is 100 square feet. Divide that by 28.3 and the result is 3.5 persons in a 10’x10’ booth at the same time. This means with two staff present you can accommodate one attendee at a time. This may be the most troublesome issue of all to manage. At this time, it is uncertain how show management will respond to this severe occupancy recommendation. What is apparent is that the use of digital technology such as plasma screens, laptop computers, and virtual technology (VR) can materially reduce the size of booth space required to demonstrate product/service capabilities.

  1. What is the safety issue most overlooked by exhibitors/attendees?

Because we still have not returned to F2F trade shows, data has not yet been gathered or analyzed, but based upon other public gatherings such as sports events, it has become clear that too many people do not practice effective social distancing nor do all who wear masks wear them properly. The social distancing issue is address in #1 above. The proper way to wear masks is to ensure that both the nose and mouth remain covered at all times. Covid-19 is a respiratory disease transmitted through breathing infectious agents into the air, thus both the nose and mouth are channels of transmission.

  1. What cleaning protocols should be used for enclosed spaces like vehicles or meeting room spaces?

Exhibition industry-specific guidelines have not been promulgated with respect to vehicles. You should contact the Center for Disease Control for appropriate guidance (https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/disinfecting-building-    facility.html#:~:text=Wear%20disposable%20gloves%20to%20clean,impurities%20on%20the %20surface).

Meeting room spaces are addressed by the International Venue Management Association (IAVM). In its IAVM Recovery Guide meeting rooms are addressed as follows:

CONFERENCE ROOMS

    • Conference rooms should be disinfected before and after each use.
    • Leave disinfectant wipes or spray in each conference room. Encourage employees to wipe down all surfaces and equipment (E.G., mouse, keyboard, phone) touched during occupancy.
    • Limit in-person meetings based on locally established capacities. Utilize virtual teleconferencing when feasible.
    • Lingering and socializing before and after meetings should be discouraged.
  1. Are there any learnings from other industries, such as hospitality, that are helpful?

Three industry associations have published guides to the safe return to F2F events. You should     contact each for a copy of their guides which have incorporated learning lessons from other industries such as hospitality, travel and entertainment. The guides are:

  • ESCA Health and Safety Guidance for the Exhibitions Industry (esca.org)
  • Essential Considerations for Safely Reopening Exhibitions and Events (IAEE.com) ((Free to IAEE members/$49 for non-members)
  • IAVM Recovery Guide (IAVM.org)
  1. What are the three most important design elements an exhibitor can employ to create a safer exhibit?

We believe that design elements should take into consideration:

  1.  Effective design strategies that maximize, rather than minimize, the number of staff and attendees who may occupy the booth space at any one time, based upon ESCA’s recommendations (see #1 above).
  2. Designs that provide a clear in and out path through booth space, similar in concept to one way grocery store aisles.
  3. Designs that effectively isolate occupants in one booth from occupants in an adjoining booth to reduce intra-booth disease transmission.

6. What measures do you think the convention centers and organizers will introduce to make shows safe enough?

  Such issues are addressed in the guides to recovery published by the three industry associations mentioned in #3 above.

  1. Can you discuss prospective safety protocols on floor during move-in/set-up & teardown/move-out?

The following recommendations for move-in/set-up/move-out are addressed in the ESCA Health and Safety Guidelines. They are intended for service contractors:

Identification

    1. When feasible, have identification supplied in advance.
    2. If utilizing wrist bands, there should be a designated station that follows all previously noted physical distancing guidelines.
    3. Exhibitors & EACs to go through the same process as employees for entrance, screening process/temperature checks.
    4. Evaluate all processes that bring people together. Automate as much as possible.
    5. Encourage exhibitors to ship to the warehouse to avoid delays in receiving freight.
    6. When possible, utilize a detailed targeted move-in and move-out. Ensure exhibitors adhere to those dates/times.
    7. For exhibitors that have paid their invoice in advance, employ an electronic Bill of Lading that can be submitted electronically.
    8. Post signage detailing when items such as furniture, carpet, hanging signs, or other materials are expected to be delivered or installed.
    9. Utilize an electronic cue line where exhibitors can go online and give notice that they have completed packing up. Two options can then be used:
      1. Electronic notification can be made to the exhibitors when they are next in the cue.
      2. A Customer Service Representative can then go to the exhibitor’s booth.
  1. How have these systems been used since the pandemic broke out?

SMT Expo booths have been designed primarily for use as exhibition booths at shows but they are so  flexible in design and configuration that they have been used to create conference and meeting rooms, walls to separate specific use spaces, even as dressing rooms for the Miss America pageant.

  1. Is there any training (such as GBAC) that trade show managers should consider taking?

In addition to the ongoing Insight Webinar Series, you should monitor training programs that may soon be offered by one or several of the exhibition industry associations. We are just at the threshold of a return to live events, so in the months ahead it is likely that several training programs will be offered to ease the transition in a variety of formats.

  1. Will COVID-19 change the exhibitor cost to participate at shows?

It is often said that the exhibition industry is a mirror image of our economy, culture and social  institutions. As we discovered the need to ramp up security at all industry events as the result of tragic acts of terrorism and lone shooter experiences, we now must confront the significant changes that pandemic episodes present to us. COVID-19 is not the first, nor  will it be the last pandemic that  nations must properly manage in the years ahead. This reality is very likely to increase the costs to all sectors of the economy that participate in exhibitions including the federal, state, and local communities, host venues, show organizers, contractors, and exhibitors, to name just a few. The cost increases within the exhibition industry have been recognized as costs that must be equitably shared by all who participate in these events. This said, the laws of free enterprise will likely continue to serve as a natural brake against egregious and unreasonable cost increases by any segment of the industry.

  1. Which guidelines should we consult for latest the latest updates?

   See #4 above

  1. How do you effectively map out a socially distanced exhibit hall floor plan?

The answer is as much art as it is science. We know the CDC recommended spacing of individuals is separation of six feet. How this impacts show floor design is yet to be determined and is very likely to become the result of much improvisation and innovation. We believe the days of  one template for show floor design has already begun to change with a variety of new and creative designs that have appeared several years before the onset of Covid-19. No doubt, in the years ahead we will be seeing new approaches to show floor design that have little in common except to support appropriate social distancing.

  1. Do you see a future role of COVID-19 Compliance Officer in our industry? If so, would this role be part of an exhibitor committee?

It is hard to predict whether a dedicated individual or department responsible for Covid-19 compliance will become commonplace. Instead, it seems likelier that an individual or department responsible for health and safety including pandemic management may become  a new  dedicated function, particularly for larger events. As likely, smaller events may assign such functions to a committee that today oversea many trade show activities.

  1. Is there a safe way to utilize 10×10 meeting rooms in exhibit halls?

Given the physical strictures of proper social distancing, it is not at all likely that we will see 10’ x 10’  meeting rooms in exhibit halls because 100 square feet can safety accommodate only 3.5 people. Much larger meeting room spaces, perhaps more than 100’ x 100’ (35 people) may likely become necessary. Many shows have integrated presentation theaters on to the show floor. Most likely, they will be modified to prevent the spread of infectious agents through social distancing.

  1. Do you anticipate booth spaces becoming larger to account for social distancing?

To accommodate proper social distancing, we must determine how to achieve more efficient use of gross exhibit hall space. The variable components include aisle spacing, booth size, food and beverage service and miscellaneous floor usage such as theaters/meeting rooms. A logical place to begin discussion is the impact on exhibit space, next might be limitations on seated food/beverage service, aisle space and then all other space uses. For events of less than 250,000 net square feet the solutions will be much less complex than for mega events that will be significantly challenged to find adequate floor space within the structure of one exhibition facility.

While there are limited opportunities to squeeze more occupancy capacity for 100 and 200 square foot booths, larger exhibits are likely to be able to redesign their space to be more efficient enabling more people to occupy the booth safely.

Of course, because most events remain moth-balled, we don’t know yet what sorts of  configurations and changes might take place. However, remember that all sectors of the industry have historically been very creative and innovate quickly to adapt to change.

  1. Discuss how you believe health and safety practices will evolve post vaccine?

What we are learning about adapting to worldwide pandemics will surely serve to teach us how to better manage similar future events. Some measures are likely to be set aside as soon as Covid-19 has been controlled such as face mask requirements, social distancing and frequent hand washing. We say, setting them aside, but not forgetting that they are effective control measures if required again in the future. Other steps such as frequent surface cleaning, the importance of better interior air circulations, and prevention procedures are likely to become ingrained in standard protocols. Even though we are not yet through with COVID-19, we do know that we were not adequately prepared for the onset of pandemic and those weaknesses and better preventative measures will surely be set in place.

  1. What COVID-19 initiated changes will remain in effect long after COVID is gone?

See #16 above

18. When do you think large, in-person, tradeshows will start again?

The Center for Exhibition Industry Research recently released an economic analysis intended  to address this question. The conclusion reached by CEIR’s economist, Allen Shaw, PhD., suggests that, based upon current science and the state of the economy, the earliest resumption of significant F2F trade show activity is likely to be no earlier than the third or fourth quarter of 2021. Keep in mind that resuming live events also depends upon the neutralization of COVID-19 and the rebuilding  of the industry’s infrastructure such as rehiring and training new employees for exhibiting companies, show management, service contractors as well as the same for related industries such as transportation, housing and entertainment. The recovery is very likely to be diverse, challenging and extended.

  1. Do you expect associations or convention centers will require attendees to have a valid test and/or vaccine at registration?

Decisions such as these are the prerogative of local municipalities and/or venues so it is impossible to say for certain. However, if airlines require proof of vaccinations as a condition of transit it is very likely that many municipalities and/or venues may require the same. On the other hand, if the COVID-19 pandemic comes under global control we will have to address the question, why require proof of vaccination against COVID-19 if we don’t require the same sort of proof for measles, polio or a host of other highly infectious diseases?

  1. Do we think that wide aisles are a solution? I believe the 30 foot grid and extra carpet make wide aisles impracticable.

This question is included in the answer to #15 above.

  1. When it comes to shows with international attendees, what needs to be done for these shows to be successful?

Until the COVID-19 pandemic has been controlled across the globe, international travel will remain highly limited in order to mitigate re-infections. That said, keep in mind that many nations, especially throughout Asia, have routinely screen in-bound passengers as they arrive with temperature  screenings. Those with elevated temperatures are generally not permitted to enter. Similar measures   may become routine for all international travel as a preventative measure. In the meantime, a likely  partial remedy may be offering international trade shows as hybrid events, allowing live attendance for domestic attendees and exhibitors and virtual participation for all others. It will likely be a slower process to achieve live event participation for all registrants. This is underscored by concerns about COVID-19 variants such as the UK and South Africa mutations. We still have much to learn about the characteristics of viral pandemics and how various vaccinations act to prevent infection. Contact the CDC (CDC.gov) for complete information including quarantine procedures.                                                                                               

  1. What are you seeing as far as exhibit hall changes as live events begin again?

It would be speculation to suggest many specifics because we are still in the learning phase of how to deal with pandemic threats in the exhibition industry, but you can take many clues from how grocery stores and other retail establishments have already responded. Social distancing and the separation of essential workers like cashiers, from customers includes one-way aisles, plexiglass separators that are almost sure to appear at registration counters as are digital means to provide contactless registration, registration processes that become essentially digital and remote, the elimination of long wait lines at registration is almost certain to go. Think also of the opportunities that scheduled appointments attendees might arrange with exhibitors could yield in efficiency and disease prevention. As was stated earlier, the exhibition industry has consistently proven itself to be resilient and innovative. There is no reason to think it will not rise to these pandemic-centric challenges.

  1. How will safety measures play into experiential & interactive demos on the tradeshow floor?

Expect to see significantly more use of virtual, augmented and mixed reality as a way to make much more effective use of show floor exhibit space and at the same time achieve more effective marketing and sales presentations. This will be especially effective for shows that cater to big and heavy products that raise the cost of exhibiting enormously.

  1. How can you adapt a large booth you already own to offer additional levels of safety on the show floor?

It is difficult to answer this question comprehensively without seeing illustrations of the booth, but  we know that space will become much more precious due to social distancing. Every square foot of  space must be utilized as efficiently as possible to achieve the exhibitor’s ROI and/or ROO. Thus, a comprehensive review of existing space utilization would be an excellent place to begin    consideration. Likewise, the addition of technologies that are able to connect attendees to regional and home office personnel coupled with virtual, augmented and mixed reality programs can be very effective in bringing key products/services into the booth without taking up valuable space.

  1. Will larger aisles mean fewer booths available or do you think associations will opt for more hall space? 

It depends upon the gross net square feet of the exhibit hall. If there is excess and unused space remaining in the hall it is a relatively easy matter to expand aisle widths without reducing the number of booths deployed in the hall. If sufficient expansion space does not exist it would be necessary to secure additional exhibition space, ideally with an adjacent exhibit hall, if additional exhibit space in the existing hall cannot be created by eliminating existing features such as F&B space, meeting rooms or presentation theaters.

  1. What have you heard, if anything, that convention centers/hotels are doing to prepare for reopening for events?

Since every exhibition venue is unique it is impossible to know how every facility is preparing for the return of live events. However, if you review the IAVM Recovery Guide mentioned earlier (see #4 above) you will gain insight into what that sector of the exhibition industry is broadly planning.

  1. Will GC’s take on a significant role in safety measures, or will organizers be expected to?

Responsibilities will be divided among general contractors, venues, show organizers and exhibitors, likely in this order of descending responsibility. Contractors will bear the burden of ensuring the  safety of installation, servicing and dismantling while venues will be focused on modifications to infrastructure and maintenance of systems like HVAC in proper condition that aid disease mitigation, public restrooms, and building cleaning. Show organizers will focus of tasks such as registration, scheduling, management of daily activities, locating events in spaces that are appropriate to prevent spreading infections, etc. Exhibitors will be primarily responsible for securing their own booth space and adjoining aisle space and complying with social distancing rules inside their space. Again, each venue is likely to develop unique protocols based upon the requirements of their physical plant.

  1. Are you seeing any good examples of contact tracing procedures from shows that have happened recently?

We have not seen examples of contact tracing. This is typically a function performed once an individual has been determined to be positive for COVID-19. Contact the CDC for additional information about contact tracing at

https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/contact-tracing.html\

  1. What can Exhibitors do to help reassure attendees?

It would be very beneficial to include a list of processes and protocols that you as exhibitor routinely  provide, especially with respect to the measures you take to ensure the safety of your exhibit.  You can also ask show management, the venue and service contractors to provide similar documentation to you that you can add on to the measures you will be providing. The greater your             transparency and the documentation that you provide to attendees, the better the chances are that you will be able to convince visitors that it is safe to participate in the show.

  1. How do you envision booth layouts and floorplans to achieve safety and social distancing?

 See question #12 above. Our colleagues at IAEE also recommend several measures to consider  below:

  • One way traffic flow within booth by designating an entry and exit point (as pictured below – of course would only work effectively on a corner if a 10 x 10)

  • Scheduling exhibit staff in shifts to limit to two per 100 sq feet at a time
  • Schedule booth appointments and limit to one customer at a time.
  • Show management can assist with traffic flow by facilitating appointments, creating one way aisles, extending show hours, and/or designating waives of attendees depending on the size of show.
  1. Do you think that all booth drawings will need to be approved prior to exhibiting an event?

This is a matter for each show organizer to determine. It is, however, unlikely that show management will assume the responsibility for authorizing exhibit designs for compliance with pandemic prevention.

  1. What safety certifications would you recommend looking into?

You might contact the Global Biorisk Advisory Council (https://gbac.issa.com/) to determine if they plan to expand the certifications they provide beyond venues and service providers.

  1. Is there any consideration for outside air flow or commercial grade air purification?

Retrofitting existing HVAC systems in Convention Centers traditionally has been a very expensive proposition and it is unlikely that all facilities would be able to bear the cost. However, it has just been announced that a company that provides the air purification system for the International Space Station has developed a scalable device called the ActivePure Air Scrubbed by Aerus. For more details check the following post in LinkedIn:

https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/ive-done-research-solution-getting-back-live-meetings-jay-   tokosch/?trackingId=rrD87AfaRua4Q1kKfoR%2F2w%3D%3D

  1. What is the optimal configuration for exhibit spacing on the show floor?

There is not one optimal configuration for exhibit spacing on the show floor. There are many unique floor configurations based upon the objectives and nature of each unique trade show event and the architecture of the host facility.

  1. How important is the willingness of attendees and exhibitors to travel, especially international travel, to the return of shows? 

It is essential. Until travelers feel that it is safe for them to fly we will not enjoy a robust recovery. Air travel, especially international journeys, present unique challenges in a pandemic environment  primarily because of the close quarters that must be preserved in order for airlines to operate profitably. Several nations, including the United States, are considering the practicality of requiring evidence of vaccinations as a condition of air travel. It remains to be seen if this new requirement is adopted and to what extent it will be enforced.

  1. What will the role of the exhibitor be in keeping the environment safe? Will they need to provide PPE, cleaning solutions, etc. 

Exhibitors will be required to ensure that they and their visitors comply with show rules regarding pandemic prevention. Current examples include face masks, social distancing and frequent hand washing, as well as ensuring the safety of their own exhibits. As the severity of the pandemic recedes and as more people are vaccinated it is likely that restrictions will be loosened or eliminated.  However, given the experience of COVID-19, it is likely that exhibitors will remain responsible for keeping their exhibit space safe. It is likely that contractors such as cleaning, and maintenance companies will develop new optional services aimed at individual exhibiting companies as an extension of their current offerings.

  1. What is the #1 safety modification designers should consider? 

Focusing on the design of space with respect to maximizing occupancy safely. The current thinking for safe social distancing is a serious erosion of traditional in-booth occupancy practices. Most exhibitors heretofore have been delighted to draw large crowds into their exhibits. Now, and in the future, exhibits that are jam-packed full of attendees are likely to be viewed as highly undesirable for obvious reasons.

  1. What is the #1 new safety measure for in-person trade shows and conventions? 

 Strict and continuous adherence to CDC recommendations for pandemic prevention and control by all participants.

  1. Can you provide examples of successful events that have happened since the pandemic began? States like Florida or Texas having events? 

We remain on the threshold of the return to live events so the pool of worthy examples is preciously slim. We hope this will be a fine question to ask sometime in early 2022 if current predictions about the return to live events holds true.

  1. How can a company prove to its employees and constituents the safety of traveling to and exhibiting at an out-of-state show? 

The first key to success will be the resumption of air travel and hotel housing in ways that assure the general public that it is, indeed, safe to travel. Next, it will be necessary to demonstrate that the event venue, show management and service contractors have done everything reasonable to ensure the safety of event attendees. When the time is right, you can be certain that show management will make heroic efforts to share the pandemic safety of their live events. The marketing of future tradeshows is certain to include discussion about what are safe events and how the host event complies.

SMT-expostandard-logoSMT Expo, LLC providing Safer Events is a division of Glenmore Industries, an OEM manufacturer of a wide variety of home, industrial and automotive products. Headquartered in Edison, N.J., with manufacturing facilities and offices in China, Taiwan, Vietnam and the U.K., SMT stands for Smart Modular Technology and is the exclusive provider of the industry’s leading, full floorplan, fabric booth system and the sole manufacturer of a revolutionary tool-free system. For more info, visit www.SMTexpo.com.

 

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