Today it might be hard to imagine a mass, indoor gathering with thousands of attendees. Yet that is the bread and butter of the convention and events industry, which was brought a screeching halt due following the coronavirus outbreak earlier this year.
As states such as Florida and Texas take further steps to reopen, the industry is trying to bounce back, with some centers preparing to host events as soon as next month using safety measures that are becoming commonplace: temperature checks, social distancing, reduced capacity and contactless registration.
“I’m very excited to be getting groups back,” said Mark Tester, executive director of the Orange County Convention Center. Located in Orlando, Florida, it is the second-largest convention site in North America.
Tester said the center is prepping for its first event since the shutdown: a 10,000-person high school volleyball tournament in July. The center plans to host 12 events in July and August and expects a “ramp up” in the fall to its normally busy schedule, he added.
In Texas, the Sunbelt Builders Show is going on as planned for next month at the Gaylord Texan, just outside Dallas. Despite the state’s recent record spike in coronavirus hospitalizations, organizers said in an email to CNBC, they are encouraged by the registration numbers and attendance is trending similar to last year’s 2,300-person event.
It is a critical moment for a massive industry and the economy. The Center for Exhibition Industry Research estimates conferences, which drive business for hotels, airlines and local restaurants contributed more than USD 101 billion to U.S. gross domestic product last year.
Since March through the end of the year, 64% of conferences tracked by the International Association of Exhibitions and Events have been canceled.
“Shows are watching closely to see what each is doing,” said Cathy Breden, the organization’s executive vice president.
“Based on what we are hearing, it sounds like September is when we’re hoping shows will start being held again,” said Breden.
Tester said, in Orlando, event organizers are waiting until the last minute to decide whether to go ahead with their plans.
With concerns of rising numbers of coronavirus cases in states that are reopening as well as fears of a possible second wave later this year, there’s no telling how many more last-minute cancellations may come or for how long they will last.
In the meantime, some companies are using convention space to drive profits in other areas.
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