Hard-hit conventions hope Delta variant fades soon as shows continue to be canceled
The cancellation of the New York Auto Show this week due to concerns over the spread of the Covid-19 Delta variant has sparked ‘here we go again’ fears in the events industry, just when she started booking conferences again.
For now, the rebound continues, venue managers across the country said in interviews, even though many trade shows are drawing half as many attendees as usual.
This week, vendors working in the exhibit hall at VenueConnect 2021 in Atlanta, an annual gathering of event venue operators, were in no mood to return to Zoom meetings. The convention sponsor, the International Association of Venue Managers, was determined to hold its conference. If the site managers themselves were unwilling to meet, what message would that send?
“If anyone is going to gather for a show if it’s safe and appropriate, it should be us,” said Rip Rippetoe, IAVM president and general manager of the San Diego Convention Center Corporation.
The cancellation of this month’s New York International Auto Show at the city’s Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, touted as the nation’s busiest auto show, has spooked an already reeling industry .
Other recent cancellations include the North American Food Equipment Manufacturers Association show in Orlando, Florida, a fundraiser at the convention center in Chattanooga, Tennessee for a local children’s hospital and the in-person part of the General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America in Washington.
It was hardly news the industry needed. Some venue operators had just reopened, including the San Diego Convention Center, which put on its first show this week after spending the past four months serving as a center for unaccompanied migrant children.
As the number of Delta cases grew across the country, the IAVM quickly moved from “strongly suggestive” masks to making them mandatory at the Atlanta rally, said Brad Mayne, the association’s CEO. Attendees also had their temperature checked before entering. Still, the event may have had half the attendance it normally has, Rippetoe estimated.
So far, sites across the country are reporting relatively little fallout. Chicago’s McCormick Place, dubbed the largest convention hall in North America, has had no recent cancellations, spokeswoman Cynthia McCafferty said, although the number of shows overall is down. McCormick Place has scheduled 43 meetings and conventions from July 1 through the end of the year. Although a direct comparison was not available, the center hosted 289 meetings, sporting events and concerts in the year 2019.
The Georgia World Congress Center Authority, operator of Atlanta’s largest convention hall, saw rental space revenue drop nearly half in the fiscal year just ended, but sees the current year reach pre-pandemic levels, even though attendance is down, spokeswoman Holly Richmond mentioned. And, the San Diego Convention Center has about 30 events planned through the end of the year, including a scaled-down Comic-Con, the show it’s perhaps best known for.
It’s been a slow comeback for the trade show industry. While concerts and music festivals have come back strong and are selling out, nearly 78% of business-to-business shows were canceled in the first quarter, of which 14% were postponed and about 8% went ahead as planned, according to the latest estimates from the Exhibition Industry Research Center.
In New York, a design and merchandise show called NY NOW is taking place next week at the Javits Center despite Delta’s surge. Addressing critics who have questioned why it’s still going given the car show’s cancellation, event organizer Emerald said NY NOW is a much smaller show: the attendance is in the thousands, not the hundreds of thousands the auto show was expecting.
And everyone will be masked, said a senior vice president of Emerald’s retail group, Tim Hart.
“Virtual events are no substitute for in-person events,” Hart said. “It is very, very important that we come together so that our customers can buy and sell. They need these face-to-face events to come together and do business.
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