When trade shows begin opening up again, and we start hearing the word “quarantine” less than 40 times per day, we’ll be pretty stoked. But just because the era of “trade shows: COVID-19 edition” may be officially behind us at that point doesn’t mean there won’t be some aftermath we all face. So what on earth is the future of trade shows? 

Well, we can’t say for sure. But they will almost certainly be different than they used to be. This virus has certainly changed the way many of us behave, and it’s also caused sweeping changes within organizations. As you might guess, events are one of the most impacted industries out there. When it’s time to start exhibiting again, how should you handle it? Here’s our best advice. 


Wait for more information. 

Trying to plan concretely for the future of trade shows right now is like trying to find a tiny marble in the jungle (and we have no idea why you’d want to do that). There’s just too much remaining uncertainty to make firm plans. So leave yourself wiggle room. Plan for shows to resume next year, but expect them to look extremely different. And if any or all of them end up canceling or postponing again, temper your surprise. 


Follow each organization’s lead. 

Some events will follow strict cleaning protocols and stringent attendee guidelines, while others will try to be as normal (lax) as possible without upsetting their visitors. The first step is to find out how your event organizer plans to handle things. You might discover they send you a stack of rules thicker than a ream of paper, in which case you’ll have your compliance work cut out for you. Or you might find they’re leaving exhibitors with a lot of freedom, so you’ll need to set your own framework. Again, there’s a lot of variability here, but the best place to start is by following the organizer’s lead.   


Expect heightened cleaning – and limitations. 

The AHLA launched a “Safe Stay” program for enhanced industry-wide hotel cleaning standards, and this will likely extend to conference spaces and event halls. The AHLA Safe Stay Advisory Council is working with public health experts, scientists, and medical leaders to develop a series of best practices for the industry. This will impact much of what you see at the hotels where your trade shows are held. Amenities at hotels will also likely be limited, so you may have access to fewer dining options and recreation choices. Keep tabs on trade show industry news to stay on top of these changes, and plan to be primarily holed up in your room when you aren’t at your booth.


Communicate your efforts. 

No matter what your trade show is doing, many (if not all) of your booth visitors will want to know you’re doing your part to keep them safe. Take whatever steps you feel make the most impact, like offering hand sanitizer, mandating employee temperature checks every morning, and cleaning the booth with high-grade disinfectant every hour or so. Of course, if COVID-19 is mostly gone by this point, you may take fewer measures, like simply offering hand sanitizer and performing a daily cleaning of the booth. You’ll know when the time comes what the right moves are. 

If trade shows open up when the new coronavirus is still a major health threat (which seems unlikely), you may consider wearing masks. Make that call based on the information you have in the weeks leading up to the show, and on the particular city’s guidance about masks. If you do decide to wear them, or are mandated to do so, jazz them up a bit. Brand your masks or get some with a funny mouth and nose printed on them, since your face will be obscured.  

And of course, use signage to encourage social distancing (if still applicable) and to communicate what you’re doing to keep visitors and staff safe. People will likely be fearful about large gatherings, so be clear about the steps you’ve taken to help assuage their fears.


Maximize the fun. 

Last, but perhaps most importantly, make your next in-person show a killer party. Or if not a party, then a really great time. People are stressed and cooped up at home; when we all have a chance to reunite and be together, let’s celebrate! Emphasizing the fun at your booth will also help to distract people from lingering fears about group gatherings, and give them a much-needed mental break from all the anxiety. Plus, it’ll help them associate your brand with an awesome time. It can’t get much better than that. 


Contact us if you’d like more information on what we think the future of trade shows will hold, help with graphics, trade show planning, or corporate interiors.