This year will be a better year for conventions than 2021. And 2021 was a better year than 2020.
As all of us in the industry know (and would probably like to forget), 2020 was a devastating year for conventions. Pandemic restrictions caused venues to shutter and live shows to cancel, and it culminated in a 79% loss of business, compared with 2019. But today there is good news. Convention business from 2020 doubled in 2021, and that business is projected to double again in 2022.
Tradeshows have proven to be too big to fail. The chart below is based on data from the 2021 CEIR Total Index. (2019 is used as a base year of 100.)
The number and sizes of shows increased during the past year. And there are many positives from the past two years that bode well for the safe and successful future of live in-person business events:
- Stand-alone digital events have not fully engaged audiences.
- All major convention venues are GBAC certified.
- Associations have implemented safety protocols to lessen risk, and ensure peace of mind for attendees.
- 85% of the adult population in the US, as of 12/29/21, is at least partially vaccinated. 63% of the entire population is fully vaccinated.
- US borders opened to fully vaccinated international travelers on November 8.
- People are again traveling by air and packing into planes. Numbers are dramatically up at TSA checkpoints:
· 10.1 million people flew over Thanksgiving (11/24-28).
· November 28, 2021 was the busiest air-travel day since February 28, 2020.
· More than two million people a day traveled by air on 14 different days in December 2021, compared with only one such day in December the previous year.
- People are attending in-person shows at crowded movie theaters:
· Eleven movies grossed more than $100 million in domestic box office receipts in 2021 (compared with only five in 2020 – and they were all first quarter shows).
- People are attending live tradeshows:
· At least four shows in the second half of 2021 attracted more than 100,000 verified attendees.
· More shows occurred in the last five months of 2021 than during the same period pre-pandemic.
But, wait, what about the new Omicron variant? Hasn’t it caused labor shortages, flight cancellations and even some exhibitors withdrawing from shows? To a degree, yes. But the Omicron surge has not resulted in a full-blown Omicron scare. Nor should it. According to scientists from around the world, Omicron will not be as long-lasting, nor as deadly as previous variants.
On December 30, health officials in South Africa announced the Omicron peak had passed, and resulted in fewer than the anticipated number of deaths. Government health advisors in Israel see infections increasing, but expect “the number of serious cases to remain a manageable rate for hospitals.” They anticipate fewer deaths than from Delta, and at least one official believes it will result in herd immunity for the country. Reports from England state that “it is not the same disease [as previous COVID cases]” and indicate “people with Omicron are less likely to be hospitalized” despite a record rise in cases.
The situation in the US is similar. The number of positive tests is at record levels, but hospitalizations and deaths are not. Comparing two weeks in December, cases were up 60%, hospitalizations were up 14% and deaths were down 7%. On December 29, the director of the CDC stated, “While cases have substantially increased from last week, hospitalizations and deaths remain comparatively low right now.” Admittedly, deaths follow hospitalizations by two to four weeks, and the total number of deaths will increase.
The increase in the number of positive tests is not reason to fear living our lives. The director of the NIAID has stated, “Many are hospitalized with COVID, as opposed to because of COVID;” for instance, the cause of the hospital visit might be “a broken leg, or appendicitis” but all incoming patients are tested, and if positive, will become one of the headline hospitalization statistics.
How can we live with this new variant in the new year? Perhaps Eric Adams, the newly elected mayor of New York City, said it best on December 30: “We can’t shut down our city again!” And we can’t do that with tradeshows or other businesses either.
Bob McGlincy is director, business management at Willwork Global Event Services. Willwork creates engaging, energized, and exceptional event experiences. Bob can be contacted at Bob.McGlincy@willwork.com