Takeaways from the Global Pet Expo and APPA’s COO Andrew Darmohraj:
- During the COVID-19 outbreak, make the commitment to keep attendees updated on emerging information.
- Work with your venue and other show partners to help keep attendees healthy.
This week, Feb. 26–28, Global Pet Expo — produced by the American Pet Products Association (APPA) — will take place at Orlando’s Orange County Convention Center, despite travel bans that are responsible for nearly 150 exhibitors from China unable to enter the U.S., impacting more than 25,000 square feet of booth space. Andrew Darmohraj, CAE, APPA’s executive vice president & COO, shared with Convene how the association is “setting an important standard for navigating the uncharted territory which COVID-19 has presented to the trade-show industry” by prioritizing communications with attendees and working with the convention center to add measures safeguarding participants’ health.
Was there ever a point the organizers of the show discussed the possibility of postponing the event?
While we have continued to monitor the Coronavirus (COVID-19) and its possible effect on attendance over the past several weeks, we were confident we could still move forward with strong attendance as the travel ban only extended to companies coming from China. “The show must go on” was our mentality from day one and we made the commitment to keeping attendees updated on emerging information about COVID-19 and our efforts to work with the Orange County Convention Center (OCCC) and other show partners to help keep attendees healthy. Further, the leading trade show associations — including IAEE, UFI, and PCMA — did not provide any guidance that would lead us to believe that shows in the U.S. should consider postponing or canceling due to the outbreak.
How did you field concerns from attendees/exhibitors who expressed hesitation?
Given the serious nature of the outbreak, it was very important to us to return every call and email that came our way. We have remained committed to providing attendees with clear, transparent communication leading up to the show.
How did you communicate that the event would proceed and allay concerns?
Our team has met daily to discuss emerging information related to COVID-19 so that staff would be prepared to answer questions. Additionally, we have stayed in contact with the APPA Board of Directors and the Trade Show committee to keep them apprised of the communication plan. We have followed guidance from the World Health Organization (WHO) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and have worked with the OCCC and other show partners to ensure we had a solid plan leading up to the show. Communications commenced with a message from APPA’s CEO Steve King in the association’s weekly newsletter which set the tone for how show officials intended to keep attendees up to date. Regular email updates have since been sent to all registered attendees and we have kept the website updated as an additional resource.
What do you expect in terms of a decrease in attendance compared to last year?
While we cannot say with exact certainty at this point, we can tell you we are anticipating that approximately 130 exhibitors will not be able to attend as they cannot enter the U.S. That being said, we still expect over 1,000 exhibitors and 7,000 buyers from 80 countries to attend this year’s event.
Were you able to make up any of the 25,000 square feet of exhibit space you lost due to Chinese exhibitors unable to travel? If you weren’t able to fill in any of that space with other exhibitors, are there any alternate plans for that space?
We worked with our general services contractor to modify the floor plan. In instances where there is a vacant booth, signage will be in place noting the company name and that the exhibitor was unable to participate due to the travel ban. Cancellations occurred too close to show time to completely reconfigure the show floor.
Did the outbreak affect any of your sessions/programming?
It did not.
What initiatives have you put in place to help safeguard your participants from the spread of germs? Extra hand sanitizing stations? Other approaches?
Close to 100 hand sanitizer stations will be available throughout the convention center, with travel-sized hand sanitizers specifically provided at registration. In high-trafficked areas like restrooms, the OCCC Environmental Services will closely monitor the cleanliness status, adding extra disinfectant schedules. And public surfaces like railings and door handles will be wiped down regularly across the OCCC campus. There will also be reminders about healthy traveler practices set out throughout the convention center and hotels. And we encourage all attendees to stay informed on the basic protective measures the public can take, such as the ones listed by the WHO.
Any initiatives to try to generate some of the revenue lost by the Chinese exhibitors?
At this point, our main focus is to provide the best possible show experience for this year’s attendees. We look forward to the continued participation of our loyal attendees coming from China in years to come.
Global Pet Expo is the industry’s premier event. This is an international meeting place and the first opportunity of the year to do business, which has solidified this show as the must-attend industry event. In an ever-changing world, we continue to evolve to meet the needs of our attendees with our focus always remaining on presenting a successful event.
Michelle Russell is editor in chief of Convene.
PCMA has created a COVID-19 resources page to help event professionals find reliable information about the outbreak and to share events industry-related resources to ensure they are prepared.