Trade Shows vs. COVID-19: What's Next?

Working in the aerospace and defense industry, we are all familiar with and understand that our primary way of doing business together is in person. However - the ambiguity of the pandemic has had us clinging to the hope that 2021 will bring clarity and the safe return to in-person events. While we don't have a specific timeline, we know that the end of the year is quickly approaching, and the light at the end of the tunnel isn't getting closer. 

Which brings us to our most frequently asked question as of late - do you think 2021 trade shows will be canceled?

trade show

It Just Depends.

Trade Show News Network puts it best, "Recent news reports have suggested that the pandemic could still pose a considerable risk to human health and safety well into next year. After monitoring health and safety concerns, economic indicators, industry developments, and business travel restrictions, as well as gauging audience comfort levels with participating in face-to-face events, some industry professionals are concluding that postponing 2021 events to later in the year is the smartest move."

There are several circumstances to navigate when planning or attending a trade show. We've compiled a list of resources, case studies, and recent articles about each to keep you up to date on what trade show event planners may be thinking and what you as an attendee should plan to expect.

Vaccination + Widespread Distribution

"The ambitious drive to produce the COVID-19 vaccine at warp speed seems to be running up against reality," reports Helen Branswell for Stat, the health, medicine, and life sciences publication. 

We need to recognize and reset our expectations about how quickly we're going to be vaccinated and how quickly things will "get back to normal" - whatever the new normal will be.

The 2020 U.S. Election

The administration in the new year will undoubtedly bring forth a lot of change as our President-elect has organized a plan for how the U.S. will tackle the health and economic crisis and push for vaccinations, reopening, travel bans, etc. President-elect Joe Biden's response to and plan for the growing public health and economic crisis caused by the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak can be viewed here.

Local Political Climate

Of course, the presidential election will impact the next year's events, but each state also manages its response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Visit your state's or the event's state's health department website for the latest coronavirus information, resources, and guidance.

Which states stand out in their pandemic response? Find out here.

Traveling & Comfort

Back in May, a COVID-19 travel survey from reported that nearly 58% of participants were comfortable traveling in the next 6 months. Six months later, and a new questionnaire by Vacation Survey said 60% of participants feel confident to travel with enhanced health and safety protocols.

And here are TravelDailyNews predictions for 2021.

International Travel Bans

This map shows which countries have entry restrictions by air for travel into the country. And this table shows the information on restrictions, foreign quarantine policies, and urgent health information provided by relevant authorities for countries you may travel to and within. If you are traveling within the U.S., visit your state's - or the state you are traveling to - health department website for the latest coronavirus information, resources, and guidance.

Logistics of Trade Shows

All of the above information aside, we still have a bunch of questions for those organizations planning events:

  • What are the organizations doing to think differently about trade shows? Wider aisles? Fewer booths? More floor space? Limited attendance?
  • Will there be smaller, more regional events?
  • Will it be safe for your employees to gather/attend?
  • What will the impact of attending an event and bringing it back to the office be?
  • Will attendees need to quarantine before/after the event?
  • Will masks be mandatory?

We have seen a few international trade shows implement creative solutions to enhance the health and safety of attendees and digital programs to allow participants to experience the event safely and seamlessly. Additional solutions include touchless technology and automated registration kiosks and safety measures such as plexiglass shields in exhibition booths and meeting pods that serve as an extra measure to reduce droplet transmissions.

Financial Stability

Can companies afford to attend, and/or can they afford not to attend - i.e. what business could you potentially lose by staying back? 

Whether or not a particular trade show is in the budget this year depends on the organization. But if we look at the prices of attending one of the largest trade show events in the aerospace and defense industry. Here is the breakdown:

  • Member 3-day pass: $385
  • Non-members 3-day pass: $560
  • Exhibitor: From $10,000 to even in the 100s of thousands
  • Plus - the cost of travel, meals, and hotel accommodations

Is that possible for your organization at this point? As you keep this in mind, let's talk about the social impact on trade shows. 

Social Impact On Trade Show Culture

Overall, it's safe to say that the social component of a trade show is the key to its success.

As an attendee, it's the opportunity to learn and attend all of the panels, classes, discussions, etc., that take place during the week. By attending the events, it makes meeting new connections and clients possible.

As someone who's worked a booth, it is vital to meet folks you may not have the chance to interact with during a regular workday. We are huge fans of the extracurricular social gatherings - it's nice to see people outside of their standard suit and tie, take a step back to relax, and network in a more casual setting - this is where those personal connections happen!

And as we know, the social impact is on the line as a result of the pandemic.

Moving Forward

With all that said, there are steps to help you create a plan to proactively strategize how to move forward in 2021 with confidence.

Make it personal. We've already discussed the social impact or lack of social impact - it is vital to make sure that your marketing department's content is personal. An ideal example of this is an educational webinar hosted by your organization that will allow you to connect directly to your audience, showcase thought-leadership, and put a face and a voice to your brand.

Keep the trade show presence alive. In our new, virtual world, it is still possible to connect with your audience with advertising. Suppose your audience has shown an interest through Google searches or web visits that overlap with the canceled conference. In that case, you can continue to serve them relevant ads via contextual advertising, which builds the relationship and brand awareness. Note: This replaces one of the key benefits of trade shows - attendees attend events, panels, discussions based on their interest in that field. Google has that same information and targeting capabilities; you just need to set it up.

What We Do Know

Unfortunately, we don't have a crystal ball for 2021. What we do know, however, is that we must analyze the events that have remained through COVID-19, hold the event planners accountable for the health and safety of attendees, and continue to strategize on how we can strengthen our marketing campaigns to move forward.

About Aerospace Marketing Lab

Aerospace Marketing Lab brings more than 20 years of complex aerospace marketing, sales, branding, and strategy development experience and insight to every customer. We understand aerospace’s complex marketing and sales models. We use this insider knowledge to break boundaries and raise aerospace and defense clients to the next level.