When can international trade shows resume?

Dec. 15, 2020
Organizers tried to schedule an in-person trade show, but exhibitors weren’t on board

With much of the 2021 trade show schedule still pending, one group tried to decisively move forward.

Last month, Messe Düsseldorf announced that it had reached an agreement with its partners from trade associations, industry and the trade fair advisory board on a path forward for staging interpack, International Trade Fair for Processing & Packaging, from Feb. 25-March 3, 2021 at the fairgrounds in Düsseldorf, Germany.

The decision to proceed with the largest international packaging industry event — one that crosses into the pharma space as well as food, beverage, cosmetics and industrial goods — was a risk, and it seems most exhibitors weren’t ready to take it.

Shortly after Messe Düsseldorf made the announcement, UCIMA, the national trade association that represents Italian packaging machinery manufacturers, issued a press release stating that given the resurgence of COVID-19 and associated government measures, it was “inconceivable” to host interpack in February.

It turns out they were correct. Less than a month after announcing the already postponed event would take place in February, Messe Düsseldorf cancelled the show entirely. The 62-year old flagship event is typically held every three years, which means the next show will continue as scheduled for 2023. Messe Düsseldorf said it will not host another show until its international boat trade fair in late April 2021.

How were they going to pull this off?

What made organizers think they could safely host an event that normally brings in close to 3,000 exhibitors and more than 170,000 visitors from over 150 countries?

Messe Düsseldorf has worked out a Hygiene and Infection Protection Concept based on current government ordinances. The 27-page guidelines include actions such as mask mandates, the use of distance markings, contactless payments, installing hand sanitizer stations and a ban on handshakes. The organizer says its modern indoor air-handling systems, combined with the use of natural air flow in the large halls from open doors and skylights, provide “plenty of space for safe encounters.”

The new safety concept, called “PROTaction: Back to Business,” was debuted last September at the first major trade fair to take place in Düsseldorf since the onset of the pandemic. Produced by Messe Düsseldorf in partnership with the Caravaning Industry Association, CARAVAN SALON 2020 — the world’s largest RV trade fair and consumer show — was held from Sept. 5-13, 2020.

According to the organizers, 107,000 people safely attended the annual event showcasing vehicles and equipment, tents, mobile homes, camping equipment and tour operators.

Too much uncertainty

On Nov. 25, facing surging death rates, the German federal government and the German states decided to implement stricter COVID-19 measures, which will extend until at least Dec. 20. A decision to extend beyond that won’t be made until mid-December, but the prevailing assumption is that restrictions will continue into 2021.

“This, unfortunately, does not give cause for hope that the situation will improve significantly over the course of the coming months. This will affect all Messe Düsseldorf events in the first quarter,” explained Wolfram N. Diener, president and CEO of Messe Düsseldorf in the Dec. 3 press release announcing interpack’s cancellation.

At present, EU citizens can travel to Germany, but U.S. citizens may only enter Germany if they “serve in an important role or if there is an urgent need for their travel.” These exceptions include such groups as health care workers, diplomats and humanitarian aid workers, according to the German Embassy in the U.S.

But it also appears as though interpack’s exhibitors were not thrilled at the prospect of moving the fully booked 2020 trade event to early 2021.

Knowing that the number of visitors would be lower than previous years, Messe Düsseldorf had offered companies participating in interpack 2021 discounts on exhibit space pricing, as well as the option to terminate their contracts entirely. And it seems that many exhibitors exercised that right to cancel — a decision that was likely linked not only to employee safety and COVID travel restrictions, but also to ROI.

“An international exhibition like interpack requires very substantial investments, not just in economic terms but also in R&D and marketing activities,” said Luciano Sottile, a member of UCIMA’s board of directors, in a press statement. “For this reason we believe it is impossible to ensure an adequate return on the investment if the presence of a sufficient number of high-quality visitors cannot be guaranteed.”

The future of trade shows

Global revenues for trade shows and exhibition organizers fell by two-thirds in the first half of 2020, according to UFI, the global association of the exhibition industry. Looking at 2020 as a whole, UFI predicted that revenues will represent only 39 percent of those of 2019.

But with several promising vaccines entering final stages of approval from global regulatory agencies, many are hopeful that pharma industry events can safely resume in-person by the second half of 2021. 

Top image courtesy of Timon Studler via Unsplash.com.

About the Author

Karen P. Langhauser | Chief Content Director, Pharma Manufacturing

Karen currently serves as Pharma Manufacturing's chief content director.

Now having dedicated her entire career to b2b journalism, Karen got her start writing for Food Manufacturing magazine. She made the decision to trade food for drugs in 2013, when she joined Putman Media as the digital content manager for Pharma Manufacturing, later taking the helm on the brand in 2016.

As an award-winning journalist with 20+ years experience writing in the manufacturing space, Karen passionately believes that b2b content does not have to suck. As the content director, her ongoing mission has been to keep Pharma Manufacturing's editorial look, tone and content fresh and accessible.

Karen graduated with honors from Bucknell University, where she majored in English and played Division 1 softball for the Bison. Happily living in NJ's famed Asbury Park, Karen is a retired Garden State Rollergirl, known to the roller derby community as the 'Predator-in-Chief.'