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The Future of Trade Shows

02/21/2021

The 2021 IPPE was cancelled during the third quarter of 2020 and most recently the Midwest Poultry Federation Expo, to have been held in May 2021 was changed to a virtual format. The prestigious Alltech ONE Ideas Conference scheduled for late May is planned to take place in virtual format. On March 1st the National Restaurant Association cancelled the May trade show that attracts as many as 50,000 industry professionals to the McCormick Place Convention Center in Chicago. The World Pork Expo cancelled in 2020 is however scheduled for June 2021 and attendance figures should indicate how willing this segment of the livestock industry is to attend a large event.

 

While some international poultry events organized by VIV will take place in 2021, there is considerable question as to when COVID restrictions will be lifted in the U.S. to allow in-person attendance at future scientific and trade meetings. The roll-out of COVID vaccination has been relatively slow and prospective attendees at trade shows do not currently fall into designated priority categories and will probably only be immunized by early summer.

 

Organizers of national and regional meetings have substituted virtual platforms to enable registrants to participate in industry and committee meetings, attend scientific sessions and to review products with suppliers. It is questioned whether these expedients are as effective as face-to-face contact and whether the exchange of knowledge and information is in reality limited by lack of personal interaction. 

 

Undoubtedly, the cost of virtual attendance is far lower than would be incurred by travel, hotel accommodation and subsistence.  The cost to exhibitors is proportionally far higher than for poultry producers as companies generally bring most of their sales and technical representatives including international personnel to major trade exhibitions. In the case of equipment manufacturers, it is necessary to transport installations to show venues frequently at a cost far exceeding booth rental and furnishings.

 

While it is evident that trade shows provide an excellent opportunity to promote new technology and introduce innovative products, decisions regarding large capital purchases such as processing equipment, egg graders, incubators and feed milling installations are no longer made during trade shows. Combining poultry, feed and meat production into an expanded IPPE represented a step towards rationalization of exhibitions reducing the cost of organizing three separate events, generally attracting common exhibitors and attendees. Although the progenitor of the IPPE was organized as a poultry trade show, restructuring the event facilitated technical and educational presentations and meetings of industry associations and specialty groups. Many exhibitors have commented that concurrent association meetings and educational programs draw prospective customers from the show floor that has expanded during the past five years creating difficulties in traversing the Georgia World Congress Center. As a benefit the Atlanta location for the IPPE is supported by ample but progressively more expensive hotel accommodation, restaurants and an efficient and convenient transport infrastructure.

 

It is hoped that the incidence rate of COVID will be sharply reduced by mid-year through a combination of vaccination and enhanced personal preventive measures.  Unfortunately, vaccine hesitancy and the emergence of variants will prolong the pandemic and lead to a disinclination to attend a large gathering that may be viewed as a potential super-spreader event. Until we return to a semblance of normality, virtual programs organized by poultry associations will have to serve as a substitute for in-person meetings. 

 

The absence of large national and regional annual meetings extending over 18 months or more will habituate regular attendees to the convenience of virtual events.  Even if meetings are scheduled for late 2021 or early 2022, there will be a reluctance to attend given the risk of possible infection and the reality that internet postings and webinars have in large measure replaced in-person events.

 

Re-establishing conventions and meetings will require a new approach to exhibitions, education programs and meetings.  With respect to the IPPE, evaluation of benefits derived by both attendees and exhibitors should be evaluated.  Benefits relative to cost will be an important determinant of participation by attendees and exhibitors.  The negative effect of concentration of events at the IPPE is questioned along with the late January time period that imposes the possibility of disruption and discomfort in the event of inclement weather.  Regional meetings will in all probability continue to be supported given the lower cost of attendance and their narrower focus of presentations, the associations represented and more specific exhibitor participation.

 

It is obvious that post-COVID, exhibitions whether in the U.S. or elsewhere will not be the same as they were prior to 2020.  Now is the time to reevaluate and assess what needs to be presented or exhibited at a meeting and to establish the most convenient and cost-effective format.  This will require close cooperation among stakeholders and leadership by organizers to ensure commonality between the needs of participants and exhibitors and what can be achieved within a three-day period.