How COVID-19 has impacted association events

Heather Nolan
July 9, 2020
How COVID-19 has impacted association events

Organizations and associations have had to do a lot of last-minute shifting of in-person meetings and events since COVID-19 cases started rapidly rising in the United States earlier this year.

In a June survey, the Center for Exhibition Industry Research found that the uncertainty around whether events can take place in their scheduled location due to COVID-19 has caused 73% of the B2B executives surveyed to cancel events since March. That jumped from 62% in April.

Of those surveyed in June, 69% said corporate no-travel policies and the impact those might have on participation was the reason they decided to forego a 2020 in-person event.

Some other percentages of note:

  • A majority of event planners surveyed -- 63% -- said they added a hybrid or virtual component, while 44% said they would give attendees the option to attend in-person or virtually
  • In April, 15% of B2B exhibition organizations said they planned to do a full virtual trade show. In June, that number jumped to 41%.

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When we actually do get back to in-person events being the norm, how might things look?

The International Association of Exhibitions and Events released a report in June with details and information groups should take into consideration when planning events during the global pandemic.

Though the report does not outline best practices, it does outline some important steps groups planning an event should take:

Complete a risk assessment.

Make sure you’re familiar with the current laws of the country, state and city where your event is being held, and work with local officials to ensure your event is in compliance.

Develop a communication plan.

The plan should include attendees, exhibitors, venues, plus suppliers and contractors.

Schedule times for saff, contractors and volunteers to arrive and leave to minimize gathering in common entry and exit points.

Use signage.

Signs and other visuals -- including floor markings -- should encourage and promote physical distancing.

Signs should also be used to clearly mark entrances and exits.

Have a health and safety protocol.

The International Association of Exhibitions and Events makes several recommendations around health and safety, including requiring everyone to wear face masks and encouraging frequent hand washing.

They recommend conducting no-touch temperature screenings at every entrance, and sending home anyone who shows COVID-19 symptoms.

The group also recommends placing touchless hand sanitizer stations throughout the venue.

Be flexible.

Because of the pandemic, policies might have to be reassessed regularly and organizations might need to create new roles and responsibilities for individuals.

A staff member should be assigned as the “knowledge expert” regarding any new protocols and procedures put in place due to COVID-19, and be able to relay that information to those involved in the event.

The International Association of Exhibitions and Events said event organizers should also consider:

  • Increasing event or exhibition hours so attendance can be staggered
  • Assigning someone to maintain flow and break up crowding
  • Using technology (think QR codes, digital credentials, touchless check-in via registration apps) to minimize gathering and contact during registration
  • Encouraging or requiring advance online registration

Did you take our survey? Let us know how COVID-19 has impacted your association’s 2020 events.

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Ashley Neal

Ashley Neal joined the Sidecar team as Community Coordinator in March of 2020, right as the COVID-19 pandemic began to shut down life as we knew it. Having to adapt, overcome and predict the changes needed to survive in the new normal, Ashley now has the skills needed to juggle any obstacle thrown her way. A soon-to-be graduate from Southeastern Louisiana University in the field of Strategic Communications, Ashley spends her days balancing her work and education with her love of dogs. Taking her three dogs — Scooby, Pipsqueak and Moose — to restaurants, hiking trails, vacations and even participating in dog shows and sports is the highlight of her weekends.

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