On Nov. 1-4, 2021, more than 40,000 people swept into Lisbon, Portugal, to attend the Web Summit trade fair. As Europe’s largest tech conference, this event is always notable. However, the 2021 event was especially significant because it was the first major in-person tech event since the pandemic began. For those willing to attend, exhibitors reap the benefits.
“The energy was different because I think people are kind of excited to be back,” Simon Wistow, co-founder, and VP of products for Fastly, a Web Summit attendee, was quoted in a Fast Company article.
The “right” attendees at the shows
Across the pond, the IAAPA (International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions) Expo 2021 kicked off just a few days later in Orlando, Fl. According to an article recapping the event, there were fewer exhibitors than usual, but those who appeared had a very successful event. “From conversations with vendors and suppliers, the people that were attending were the ‘right’ people and seemed eager to spend. The mood on the floor was optimistic as most companies reported outstanding revenue despite some Covid related challenges, especially labor and supply chain issues.”
Attendees with purchasing power ready to make deals is a pattern at events throughout 2021, ever since trade shows made their first tentative return. For example, in Feb. 2021, three clothing-design brand experiences – Womenswear in Nevada, Magic Pop-Up, and Offprice – hosted a joint event to “pilot” post-pandemic shows.
“This was an investment for the industry to prove that we can run these events,” Douglas Emslie, group chief executive of Offprice organizer Tarsus Group PLC., was quoted in a Wall Street Journal article.
Attendees arrived at the show on a mission. From the article, “One attendee, Steven Gasparovic for B&S Activewear LLC, said going to the trade show was a quick way for the firm to strike 15 sales in a three-day period. ‘The cost of sending out as many samples as you get to put in front of a customer is astronomical, comparatively speaking to being in a venue where they’re coming to you,’ said Mr. Gasparovic, the clothing wholesaler’s director of U.S. operations.”
After months of nothing but virtual events, it’s clear that people are ready to return to in-person networking and meet-and-greets.
“Investors are not going to invest in your company through a cold email – it’s much better to go have a coffee or a pint with them,” Luke Rynne Cullen, the founder of TuneReleaseand Web Summit attendee, was quoted in the Fast Company article. “Emails only go so far. Video calls are the same. So, you have to attend events.”
“The actual art of human interaction has to happen in person,” echoed Justin Samuels, the chief experience officer at Render-Atlanta, in an ABC News piece about the exhibition industry.
The majority of responses indicate that virtual events do not provide the same value as in-person exhibitions. Paddy Cosgrave, the founder of Web Summit, is relatively straightforward with his feelings on digital conferences.
“Virtual conferences suck,” said Cosgrave in the Fast Company article. “They serve a purpose – and they did before the pandemic – but I think that purpose is quite limited.”
Despite some strong opinions, from now on, the majority of events will likely have a digital component, which will require exhibitors also to create a virtual trade show booth. However, before the pandemic, digital trade shows were seen as the “wave of the future,” with some predicting they may one day replace in-person events. Our collective experiences during the pandemic proved that digital events serve a purpose, but they cannot replace face-to-face events.
“In-person meetings provide a quality of interaction that no amount of technology, as of yet, can replicate,” Paddy Cosgrave is quoted in the ABC News piece.
Safety measures provide comfort
In addition to being antsy to return to in-person conferences, attendees also feel comfortable due to health and safety measures instituted by venues across the country, such as:
- Wider aisles to assist with social distancing.
- Mandated mask-wearing.
- Temperature checks at the entrances.
- Proof of vaccination or negative COVID-19 test.
- Hand sanitizer stations across the show floor and at nearly every exhibit.
- And more.
Due to these precautions, an Aug. 2021 study, “Planning Through Uncertainty,” found that attending an in-person business event is safer than most day-to-day activities, including going to the grocery store and attending school. In fact, the risks of COVID-19 infection at events are as much as eight times less than in the hosting metro area.
Trade show booth design is also evolving in response to safety concerns. Many custom trade show displays are more spacious and include more expansive meeting areas where socially distanced conversations can safely occur.
Eventually, show floor aisles will shrink back to pre-pandemic size, temperature checks and mask mandates will fade, but many other health and safety changes will stick around. Hand sanitizer stations are permanent fixtures, as is health and safety signage – especially during cold and flu season. Also, a portion of attendees will continue to wear facial coverings. So, exhibitors need to get good at reading eye expressions.
Trade shows are back
The “Planning Through Uncertainty” study also revealed people’s primary motivation to attend a trade show: there just needs to be a show to attend.
The study used responses from 442 exhibitors and 5,165 attendees of business events. When asked, “What are the primary needs (for attendees) to return to in-person events” the responses were:
- The event is held – 35%
- CDC or other trusted healthcare professional recommends it is safe to do so – 17%
- Health and safety protocols (e.g., mask mandates,COVID-19 testing, enhanced cleaning) – 14%
- Adult (18+) vaccination rate – 13%
- Event not located in a hot spot – 11%
- Other – 9%
Exhibitor trade show attendance is growing, meaning competition is on the rise. For exhibitors, the time to take advantage of these opportunities is now. To learn more about our awesome trade show displays and how they help you stand out from the crowd, give The Trade Group a call at 800-343-2005 or contact us here.