Over the last days news emerged that several tradeshows, slated to happen in autumn of 2020, have been postponed to 2021. This now makes the already quite squeezed calendars of 2021 a kind of mess with overlapping events, tradeshows and meetings. By Sabine Slaughter

Sure, all of us, or should I say most of us are looking forward to seeing our contacts, co-workers, customers and clients, even our competition face-to-face again. We are craving to see new developments and inventions in person, touch the new machines, devices and products produced thereon.
Normality, please come back – that is what some wish for. What we might have fathomed on the surface, and even deep down in our subconscious is, that we know that it will never be again as it was. It feels like leaving for college, making a multitude of new experiences, and then returning home. Home does not feel like it used to. And it will be the same once tradeshows and events are rebooted. It will never feel the same again.
The chance that has been handed to us to develop, evolve, reset everything within a new framework of spoken and unspoken rules such as physical distancing, wearing masks, etc. means also that we have to expect the unexpected, and redefine.
Shows such as Formnext – an additive manufacturing exhibition –, Heimtextil – which includes textile printing -, and many others have set some rules and guidelines to keep everyone participating healthy. These include wider aisles, crowd control, physical distancing, wearing masks, tracing possibilities, separating spaces between booths and aisles and much more. Are the exhibitors ready? Are the visitors ready? Is everyone ready to accept, adhere and visit tradeshows within the frameworks that have been set by individual states? And more over, do we feel safe and secure to travel and being kept healthy by all involved?
Different approaches are being executed worldwide. Personally, I consider the approach from Illinois in the USA the most comprehensive. They have rated conventions, tradeshows, exhibitions as level 5 which means that they will only be allowed again when there is an availability of a vaccine for COVID-19 or a highly effective treatment protocol. And I think that we all know where those conditions are – and how far we are away from fulfilling these. From a medical standpoint this is the safest way of making sure everyone involved in these events is safe and secure and will be kept healthy.
As many industries, graphic arts, packaging, labelling and in- and outdoor signage are going through some difficult phases. Everyone, including manufacturers, PSPs need some time to recover from the effects of the various restrictions, shut and lockdowns as well as changed business values and behaviour while the pandemic still ravages some parts of the globe within the first wave. And as many scientists have concluded, a second and third wave are more likely than not.
Sure, as 2020 would have been a drupa year, manufacturers are ready to bring new equipment to the show floor and have found new ways to reveal their innovations. In a multitude of online events, new machines, solutions, concepts and software have been virtually introduced. And yes, I as many others want to see these inventions running live, want to touch jobs produced thereon. And finally leave the thoughts of COVID-19 behind, concentrate on the new, invent new products and solutions to be implemented at PSPs, etc. Discuss, have fun and enjoy the food, a glass of beer or wine after show hours with peers and vendors in Frankfurt, Düsseldorf, Atlanta, Tokyo or whichever location a tradeshow happens to be.
However, what good will a tradeshow be, when some regions of this globe still fight SARS-CoV-2? When travel restrictions prevent some participants not to be able to attend? When a negative test one day is already obsolete 5 minutes later as the tested person could have been infected within those 5 minutes that it took him or her to reach the car, to walk down an aisle or even use the restrooms?
As much as exhibition organisations and companies have been hit by the pandemic, and as much as we all know that their survival is in direct relations to exhibitions, events etc. and as much as the economic impact of tradeshows is appreciated, not only in our but also other industries, we have to be reasonable, we have to be conscious and we have to take the health of everyone on this planet into account.
The latest to surface now, is the cancellation of the Geneva International Motor Show in – listen – spring 2021. Some will argue: This is not our industry. Sure it is not. However, it is another huge event and exhibition that usually attracts more than 600,000 visitors. And this puts it in the same scope as some tradeshows within the graphic arts, packaging and additive manufacturing space.
What to expect from a tradeshow when visitors, exhibitors from some areas, countries or even continents cannot take part due to travel restrictions? Where participants on either side of the aisle cannot get a guarantee of being kept safe and healthy? Where even touching the surface of a product could contaminate someone? Where crowd control means that one cannot just stroll into a hall and look for solutions? Where business negotiations – and may they be confidential or not – must be conducted with a space of 1.5 to 2 meters distance? And what about participants with pre-existing conditions and those that belong to risk groups – will they even come? Who and how many will put up with all restrictions imposed and come anyway?
Though personally, I long for face-to-face meetings at exhibitions, seeing and evaluating new products again, the Illinois approach to the pandemic outlined earlier in this article convinces me the most in order to keep everyone at the top of their performance spectrum. Plus: Tradeshows will no longer be what they were.
What the current crisis is telling us is that it is about time to rethink how we can communicate using all the available technologies around and how we can join physical events when necessary. Yes, it was convenient – and for some if us nice - to go to tradeshows but was it the most effective way? I hear from many printers and converters telling me that spending three days and a significant budget to screen potential suppliers of A, B or C can as well be done effectively with search on sites of trade magazines or Google and few personalized virtual demos.
Meanwhile, let us innovate, develop new ideas and realise them in order to keep businesses striving and help our clients, customers and everyone involved to stay safe and healthy while expanding their portfolios and economic chances. The clean slate, granted to us by the reboot, wants to be written on. Let’s do it and let us look ahead and not back!


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