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Are Trade Shows Going to Happen in 2021?

Recent scheduling announcements are no guarantee that the events will take place at the publicized time. But vaccines have provided some hope.

Feb 11, 2021 3:49 AM   By Joshua Freedman
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RAPAPORT... Three weeks in March 2020 underscored how fast the situation could change during Covid-19. On the third of the month, JCK announced that its annual Las Vegas shows would take place as usual in late May and early June, despite the outbreak. On the 17th of the month, it called them off.

What happened in between was unprecedented. The World Health Organization (WHO) declared the novel coronavirus a pandemic on March 11. US industry events got canceled. Diamond bourses around the world started to close their trading halls. And the state of Nevada ordered all nonessential businesses to close to the public for 30 days, forcing JCK’s hand.

New schedules came out quickly, giving timescales that were, in hindsight, unrealistic. Reed Exhibitions, which runs the JCK shows, pushed its fairs back to August 2020. The Hong Kong Trade Development Council (HKTDC) delayed its March diamond and jewelry exhibitions by just two-and-a-half months to mid-May. Informa, organizer of the September Hong Kong shows, later did the same thing, postponing its events to November. A few of them materialized as virtual shows, but none took place in their physical forms.

Show organizers are more cautious now. Recognizing how quickly circumstances can evolve, they are dressing their timelines in caveats and admitting that unexpected events could mess up their plans.

“New situations are popping up that no one expected — for example, the mutated virus,” explained Elena Jasper, exhibition director for the annual Inhorgenta Munich show in Germany. “We were all hoping that we could just postpone [the 2020 events] to this year and everything would be back to normal, or at least doable. But the situation is different.”

Inhorgenta, Germany’s largest jewelry exhibition, avoided the wave of cancellations in 2020 — it took place in February, just before Europe started locking down. This year’s edition, scheduled for April 15 to 19, looks unlikely to make the cut, with organizers currently consulting participants about dates, Jasper told Rapaport News in a recent interview. Messe München, which runs the show, expects to announce an update in mid-February.

“Everyone is even more cautious because no one knows what else might come up,” she said. “Will there be more waves, and are there more mutant viruses that we can’t control? Is the vaccine able to stop the virus? And so there are many open questions that no one really wants to tell people this is the new date and it will definitely happen then.”

This uncertainty has also affected HourUniverse, Baselworld’s successor, which recently postponed its April 2021 show. It’s hoping to hold the rearranged event between mid-June and the first week of July to avoid the peak summer vacation period and a likely rush of rescheduled events in September and October. But that plan could be out of the window in an instant, warned Michel Loris-Melikoff, the Swiss show’s managing director.

“What we realize today is that things can change dramatically in any direction, in positive or in negative terms,” said Loris-Melikoff. “For this reason, we are aiming for this time slot. But of course, we also have to consider other time slots.”

The HKTDC is still planning to hold its 2021 Hong Kong International Diamond, Gem & Pearl Show and its Hong Kong International Jewellery Show from July 2 to 6, “provided the circumstances allow,” a spokesperson said. Sarin Bachmann, group vice president at JCK and Luxury, said organizers were “fully focused” on holding the main show from August 27 to 30 and the Luxury sister fair from August 24 to 30.

Meanwhile, Informa’s Jewellery & Gem World Hong Kong show, as well its smaller June exhibition, will take place as planned from September 17 to 23 if health conditions permit and international travel restrictions ease, said Celine Lau, the company’s director of jewelry fairs.

“So far, chances are higher in September than in June, but the situation is fluctuating regularly,” Lau added.

Hire pressure

Inhorgenta and HourUniverse own their venues, giving them more flexibility than if they were hiring space. So does the Italian Exhibition Group (IEG), whose VicenzaOro show in September was one of the few major jewelry fairs to take place last year.

“The ones who are responsible for the hall are our colleagues, so we can very easily get in touch with them and try to switch our dates,” said Jasper at Inhorgenta. “They have a very short line of communication. So I think that's definitely a plus.”

JCK and Informa don’t have this luxury. 

“If you don’t own the place, you have many more restrictions and you are taking more risks and you definitely have to sign certain agreements,” added Marco Carniello, group brand director for IEG’s jewelry and fashion division. “But now, because of the pandemic, I don’t think any venue would create a problem for any organizer about the deposit or the cancellation policies.”

This means a date announcement is far from a guarantee that the event will happen at the publicized time. Still, Carniello expressed confidence that IEG’s 2021 jewelry shows would take place as scheduled, with OroArezzo due to run from June 12 to 15 in Arezzo, and VicenzaOro slated for September 10 to 14 in Vicenza.

“Based on the evidence as we have at the moment, mid-June will be medium to low risk of still having restrictions [in Italy],” he predicted. “For September, there’s currently a very low risk that restrictions [will still be] in place.”

Most trade shows take around six months to organize. The uncertainty around Covid-19 makes this hard. Aware of this, HourUniverse is considering holding small satellite shows around the world in addition to an annual fair in Basel, enabling it to respond to demand for events in specific places at shorter notice than normal.

Clients might say, “You have to do something in Guangzhou or Shenzhen, or there are so many collectors in Singapore, why don’t you consider doing it over there or in Riyadh or in Long Beach?” Loris-Melikoff pointed out. “We don’t do it for ourselves, we do it for the industry. So if the industry asks for a live show in a very precise place, and it really makes sense also for us, then we are going to do it.”

The pandemic could also result in fewer shows taking place around the world.

“When you have the opportunity to meet people physically, it feels really good. We need to see each other. We really feel that the industry needs shows,” said Loris-Melikoff. “But I’m absolutely convinced that in the future we are probably going to travel less, because all of us have now learnt how to operate with Zoom and video chat, even if we hate it. It really helps us to be much more efficient and faster in talking to each other.”

Summer days

The summer will be congested, if the current schedule is to be trusted. The midyear timing may in fact raise the likelihood of the events happening, said Jasper at Inhorgenta.

“Because of the temperature and the opportunities to be outside, I think the [infection] numbers will drop during summertime,” she predicted, noting that the virus situation could worsen from October onward. “Visitors will feel freer, happier, less bound when it’s summertime.”

Ultimately, whether this year’s shows can take place depends on the success of vaccines and how governments respond to fresh Covid-19 waves. It also hinges on whether organizers can sharpen their health measures to turn their venues into coronavirus-free zones.

“There are so many opportunities, also with the quick-testing opportunity, to create a safe bubble inside the halls,” Jasper commented. “How far we can go and when — this also depends a little bit on the political situation.”

Italy’s IEG is considering introducing Covid-19 testing at its events. However, as with all show organizers that spoke to Rapaport News, it won’t require participants to be vaccinated yet, as rollouts of the shots have varied in speed across different countries.

“I would expect that [this measure] will come probably next year, when there will be a lot more availability of the vaccine,” said IEG’s Carniello. No policies on testing or vaccinations are final yet, as trade-fair associations have not reached decisions on the issue, the company noted.

The prospect of mass inoculation is giving some hope that 2021 will be better than last year, the executive added.

“Now that we know that we have at least three vaccines that are approved, this is giving all the organizers at least the feeling of looking at that as the light at the end of the tunnel,” Carniello concluded.

Update, February 14, 2021: A sentence has been added to this article to clarify that IEG and the relevant trade-fair associations have not finalized any policies around Covid-19 testing and vaccinations.

Image: How Inhorgenta Munich looked in February 2020. (Messe München)
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Tags: Arezzo, basel, Baselworld, Coronavirus, COVID-19, Elena Jasper, Gem & Pearl Show, Guangzhou, HKTDC, Hong Kong, Hong Kong International Diamond, Hong Kong Trade Development Council, Houruniverse, IEG, Informa, Inhorgenta, Inhorgenta Munich, Italian Exhibition Group, JCK, JCK Las Vegas, JCK Luxury, Joshua Freedman, las vegas, Long Beach, luxury, Marco Carniello, Michel Loris-Melikoff, München, OroArezzo, pandemic, Rapaport News, Reed Exhibitions, Riyadh, shenzhen, vicenza, Vicenzaoro, World Health Organization
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