Conference and trade show travel will look different

October 08, 2020

Would you attend an industry conference or trade show now? Recently, Hotel Business conducted an online survey, and more than 850 industry professionals responded, offering their insight on the question. As the industry copes with the COVID-19 outbreak, news about conferences and trade shows changes by the minute. Show cancellations, postponements and new procedures and protocols are all in play. But what’s on the minds of industry leaders as hospitality navigates this uncertain time?  This survey asked participants their thoughts about returning to these types of events, how they would feel most comfortable attending and what they expect for the future of travel and virtual events. The findings indicated that most of the respondents don’t feel comfortable attending an industry event until next year. Although the survey results indicated that most of the respondents would comply with safety protocols such as wearing a mask, social distancing and agreeing to temperature checks, most believed that business this year wouldn’t warrant an event.

Based on the results, it’s unlikely that 2020 will be the year for air travel and industry events; however, respondents would like the option of being able to livestream an event from their home or office. And, once these in-person events do resume, respondents indicated that they will continue to seek out industry information through virtual panels and conferences. Hotel Business asked industry leaders their thoughts on these findings, and to analyze the results. Following is some insight into what we can expect for the future of events.

Most of the respondents feel comfortable attending the next trade show or conference in Q1 2021 and beyond.2021 trade show events

“The results of that survey question are concerning as conferences and trade shows are for many properties a key part of their revenue strategy, especially urban properties. They are also a critical source of revenue for local municipalities. We are hopeful that with the passage of time, along with advances in treatments and, ultimately, a vaccine, that guests’ concerns will lessen. We must also not forget that conferences and trade shows are critical for the career development of team members and the forging of new business relationships and sales. Hopefully, over time, that part of commerce will return.”  —Chris Manley, COO, Stonebridge Companies

When trade shows and conferences do resume, almost all of the respondents indicated that they would wear a mask, agree to social distancing, agree to a temperature check and sign a disclaimer waiver when registering to attend in person. However, it was mixed as to whether respondents would expect medical personnel on site.

“Trade shows will look and feel a bit different in the age of COVID-19, but it is reassuring to see that a vast majority of survey respondents expect and are willing to work with event hosts to create a safe environment. People are eager to get our society back on track. The responses show that prospective attendees are hyper-aware of the need to move forward safely and to be smart about how we resume these events that are so valuable to associations and industries. While the proliferation of video services somewhat fills the gap, there is nothing quite like the in-person experience that trade shows and conventions offer when you’re trying to do business or exchange new ideas—both of which will be key as we get our industry on the road to recovery.”  —Cecil Staton, president/CEO, AAHOA

Based on these results, most of the participants are worried about flying rather than taxi rides and hotel stays. For Walt Strasser, EVP, Minibar Systems Worldwide, however, he’s most concerned about hotel stays.

“I fly often and take Lyft often and find them easier and safer. Everyone practices social distancing at airports and on airplanes, and I wipe down surfaces when getting into a Lyft including [wearing]my mask,” he said. “I am much more concerned about hotels following the necessary protocols and using the best cleaners and disinfectants for immediate killing of germs and viruses and long-term killing action of viruses, such as the micorSURE All Purpose Cleaner and Disinfectant.”  —Walt Strasser, EVP, Minibar Systems Worldwide

Most of the respondents prefer pre-packaged F&B over buffet stations and passed hors d’oeuvres.

“As demand for meetings and group events begins to return, it’s essential that planners work with their event venue to identify appropriate precautions in an effort to ensure attendee safety, comfort and well-being. One way to accomplish that is by providing attendees with more options and control over their environments throughout the meeting experience in order to provide peace of mind. From a food and beverage perspective, that may mean planners need to forgo traditional buffets and collaborate closely with their venue to understand available options for different dining experiences. Depending on the nature of the meeting, venue and size of the group, individually pre-packaged items may be a good alternative.”  —Steve Enselein, SVP of events, Hyatt

Most of the respondents would want the option to livestream an established industry events from their home or office.

“Whenever I hear mention of canceling hospitality industry events, I have to pause before responding—mostly because I passionately believe, as hoteliers and associated professionals, we have to exhibit confidence in the entire travel industry and actively support it if we want others to do the same. That said, I also recognize attendance for many events, including hospitality, will likely be negatively impacted this year due to state/local restrictions on group sizes, restrictions on travel between states, the financial strain the pandemic has put on businesses and individuals, and the ongoing health risks/concerns. Given the current state of the industry, it’s important to connect with others to gain greater insight and share best practices, so if the option is to ‘miss’ the event due to current circumstances or livestream, I would be in favor of a livestream.”  —Dawna Comeaux, COO, Spire Hospitality

Most of the respondents prefer large sessions in one room with social-distance seating versus large sessions being split into multiple smaller rooms; however, the results were close.

“Given the need for social distancing in the current environment, it makes sense that respondents would feel more at ease attending a conference where sessions, exhibits and events take place in larger rooms. Face masks and safety measures will be paramount at all live events for the near future. At The Lodging Conference this September, we plan to use larger rooms and the hotel’s large outdoor spaces to maximize social distancing and we will adhere to industry ‘Stay Safe’ guidelines.”  —Harry Javer, founder, The Lodging Conference


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