Updated: Apr 13, 2021
For the last fourteen years, I, like many others, have poured my heart and soul into face-to-face marketing, trade shows, and events. In 2010, I started my business, Event Driven Solutions, as a liaison to companies with their exhibit house as both an onsite supervisor and a marketing strategist, working with businesses to not only help them with the trade show exhibit, but also help them with measurable, tactical results.
Since the coronavirus hit, the majority of my business’s projects have been cancelled or postponed. We had project after project cancel, only to be faced with a future of uncertainty and fears of the trade shows and events to come.
Also, since the coronavirus hit, I have been advocating for masks, encouraging my friends and family to wear masks, and openly sharing the importance of safety, as far as I can see it go, based on the information I’ve read. While I have limited scientific knowledge, I have chosen to trust science as much as possible, and to avoid letting politics sway my choices as much as a naturally biased human being is capable of doing. That said, I also want with all of my heart to advocate for the exhibitions industry and the success of our industry’s future.
So why am I telling you all of this? Well, on July 24th, 2020, I decided to go check out the Together Again Expo in Orlando at the Orange County Convention Center. I am going to be honest – a week ago, I recommended firmly to industry friends to stay away from Florida, to avoid this event, and that I thought it was insane for this to even be happening. But as the event got closer, I became curious to see what the show organizers were in fact doing to keep attendees safe.
I am going to tell you the story of my experience, for those of you who weren’t able to attend, as I think it would be good for everyone to understand what it was like, with the hopes that we can use knowledge, not to create biases for or against the event itself, but hopefully, to learn, to grow, and to save our industry.
Upon arrival to the OCCC, I was able to park right behind the hall for free in the main lot. There weren’t a ton of crowds, so I wasn’t too worried about the show floor being crowded. At the entrance, outside of the building, there were two people seated at opposite ends of a tables checking temperatures. After taking your temperature, you were given a sticker to put on your shirt that granted you admission to the building. Inside, someone was standing pointing out directions, and stanchions and arrows told us which way to go. I took the escalator, careful not to touch the railings. I crossed the west hall bridge and descended on the other side of the bridge on another escalator to get my badge. There were greeters who were making sure that no lines collected with people, ushering attendees to advise our badge number or scan our QR code from the registration email. There was not a line at the registration counter, and stickers were on the floor to ensure that we were socially distanced. Someone behind plexiglass handed us our badge, and a lanyard with a mask, bagged in cellophane bags. We were told to head over towards the entrance. Directional signs advised that there was one direction in, and one direction out. The hall had one entrance, and one exit, so as to not have people bumping into each other. The crowds were minimal, so there wasn’t too much concern for this. As I was going up the next escalator, someone from OCCC was scrubbing down the escalator railings with disinfectant. There were staff members cleaning surfaces all over the place.
Inside the hall, the booths were set up in traditional 10’ x 10’ style. Personally, I would have spaced out the hall with larger aisles, but instead, they chose to put arrows on the floor for people to walk one-way up and down the aisle. I will be honest – I did not see the arrows until someone pointed them out to me after being at the show for an hour. All of the presentations took place on a main stage that was set off to one side of the hall. Chairs at the stage were spaced 6’ apart from each other, and most people were respectful of the space. I only saw two people not wearing masks the entire time I was in the building.
The food concessions were set-up inside the hall, but they didn’t seem trafficked. There were 6’ round tables across the floor, and those were quite spread apart, with few chairs per table. I did use the restroom, and while I was in there, there was a staff member scrubbing down the surfaces and spraying the floor with bleach. The restroom was immaculate. From what I was told, there were also some aerosol cleaning spray mechanisms on the floor to clean and ionize surfaces and recirculate air.
The Industry Leaders Opening Session was from 11:00 AM – 12:00 PM. I was hoping this presentation would encompass detailed information as to exactly what the venue, airports, and hotels were doing to reduce germs, but instead it was more about the tourism industry in the city of Orlando. As a trade show and event manager, I hoped to gain specific data and executable steps that I could use and share with my clients during this session. Unfortunately, I don’t feel like I walked away from this with enough tools to be comfortable with planning events or re-opening trade shows in Orlando after seeing this.
I didn’t participate in any of the other sessions, as I really just wanted a quick in-and-out of the event for a few meetings, to see the opening session, and to observe what was being done from a socially distant space.
While I have several recommendations for how this could have been done better, the environment did feel about as safe as that of a grocery store. It’s hard to measure safety of something that we can’t see – so this is a bit subjective. My goal is to use this post as an opportunity to share the facts of what I saw, versus to share my opinions, but based on what I saw, the future of our industry is going to require extreme attention to detail to make everything as safe as possible. I do not believe we are ready for large shows, but I’m cautiously optimistic to say that I think small events might be able to be navigated safely.