• Cyril McAree

Trade Fairs & Exhibitions Set To Resume In 2021

The Irish Exhibition Organisers Association (IEOA) calls on exhibitors, SMEs and industry bodies to re-engage with trade fair and exhibition professionals as we enter 2021. This call was made as the IEOA launched their Covid-19 protocols, as well as on foot of Government clarity about the operation of trade fairs and exhibitions under levels 1 and 2 of Covid-19 Government guidelines. These IEOA-drafted Covid-19 protocols will be in place to ensure best practice health and safety standards are delivered once trade fairs and exhibitions recommence.

Robert Troy, Minister of State, Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, with responsibility for Trade Promotion, was invited to the largest exhibition space in Ireland, the RDS, to acknowledge his support for enabling trade fairs and exhibitions to recommence in 2021.

Speaking at the RDS, Minister of State Robert Troy said: “I am delighted to see first-hand the level of preparedness that venues such as the RDS are making to ensure that they can reopen safely when permitted under public health guidance and the Government’s Living with COVID-19 Roadmap. A significant effort has been made by the industry to develop protocols for the safe return to business. I envisage no reason that trade exhibitions cannot reopen in Level 2, subject to a decline in trajectory of the virus.

“In the meantime, I welcome the innovation shown by venues and event organisers to move to virtual events, enabling businesses to engage online. As Minister for Trade Promotion I recognise the value of face-to-face engagement and business networking and I look forward to the reopening of the business events and trade shows in the coming months. 2021 is the year we make trade a priority, and I will continue to work with my Government colleagues to see the safe return of trade exhibitions which give businesses the space to make connections and work together. The Government is supporting event venues and the sector through wage subsidies, rates waivers and access to low-cost liquidity and while the Government acknowledges not all can avail of CRSS, work is ongoing to address the needs of legitimate businesses.”

“We’re a service industry that has an amplifying business effect for many other sectors” says Garret Buckley, Chair of the IEOA.

Our businesses have been closed since March. That has been devastating for our industry, but also the many SMEs that rely upon our events to get their product or service to market. The prolonged period of shutdown has been a severe blow to confidence, people were questioning if we’d survive at all. Minister Troy and his officials engaged with us early and his efforts have helped our industry in achieving clarity in a time of uncertainty. Government clarity is a crucial first step in restoring confidence.”

Hundreds of industry-specific events were cancelled across 2020. Trade fairs and business exhibitions typically require several months lead-in, but for IEOA members planning has already begun to enable a restart in Spring 2021. IEOA members are also aware that a movement to Covid-19 level 3 or higher could prevent their event from taking place at short notice. “That is a risk that we will have to weigh up and consider. Some of our members are at a point that it is a risk that they are willing to take” says Garret Buckley.

"But some standard practices in our industry give us natural advantages and allow us to run safe events. They are incorporated into a series of robust and implementable protocols to ensure the safety of all exhibitors, visitors and staff, which the IEOA drafted as part of our engagement with the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment. These protocols have been reviewed by the Health and Safety Authority and the Department of Health, and we are satisfied that they will contribute to making trade fairs one of the safest indoor environments possible. Trade fairs and exhibitions can resume on the basis of these protocols, without requiring a national vaccination programme to be completed, as has already happened in Asia and parts of Europe”.

These protocols include contact details for all persons on site either attending or working at any event; pre-registering of all attendees; use of event management professionals experienced in people movement; one-way systems; staggered pre-arranged time allocations; 4m2 per person, using spacious professional venues; and use of multiple entry and exit points.

Speaking on behalf of the RDS, Commercial Director Michele Griffin said: The RDS has been the premier venue for many of the country’s longest established trade fair organisers, in some instances we have professional relationships going back decades.

Just like our clients, our venue has been in effective hibernation since March. We had two months trading in 2020 with over 200 events postponed or cancelled. We have worked diligently with the IEOA and are confident that their health and safety protocols are fully operable in professional, spacious venues such as ours. The economic uplift from a recommencement of trade fairs goes beyond the event industry, potentially benefiting hundreds of indigenous SMEs from many different sectors. Our years of experience across diverse sectors tells us that face-to-face selling at trade fairs and exhibitions can be vital for many companies. It not only gives them sales leads, but a chance to test new products or services which they can then amend or alter based on feedback.”

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