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Show Cancellations Mount in Face of COVID-19 Pandemic

NEW YORK — The COVID-19 pandemic, which continues to have a dramatic impact on the kitchen and bath industry, is forcing the cancellation of a growing number of trade shows and conferences, while organizers of upcoming live events scramble to either convert to digital-only formats or establish groundbreaking new protocols to assure the health and safety of attendees, exhibitors and vendors.

For decades, trade shows and other live events have afforded a prime opportunity for kitchen/bath dealers, designers, remodelers, home builders, fabricators and other key industry players to visit product exhibitors and attend educational programs, as well as networking and social events – often in appealing, destination-type getaways.

However, that longstanding calculus, along with corporate business practices, showroom operations and consumer buying habits, is being dramatically impacted by health concerns tied to COVID-19, as potential show attendees weigh risk-reward relationships and potential exhibitors weigh the wisdom of making significant financial outlays – often tens of thousands of dollars, due well in advance of show dates – for booth-related costs, travel, lodging, meals, corporate functions and myriad other expenditures.

To date, no fewer than a dozen major industry-related events previously scheduled for 2020 have already been postponed or cancelled in the five months since the coronavirus began to result in government-mandated social distancing and other virus-mitigation tactics, including show venues being converted to temporary medical-care facilities for COVID-19 patients.

As one example, Emerald Holding, Inc., the longtime show producer for the Kitchen & Bath Industry Show (KBIS), has been forced to cancel or postpone some 40 events in 2020 due to COVID-19, according to the company, which produces some 140 events a year.

Among the most recent major cancellations or postponements have been the following:

  • IWF 2020: The premier live event for the cabinet manufacturing, fabricating and woodworking markets, previously scheduled for Aug. 25-28 in Atlanta, had been expected to draw more than 1,000 exhibitors and 30,000+ attendees.
  • CEDIA Expo 2020: The annual five-day expo, aimed at the home-technology market, had been scheduled for Sept. 8-12 in Denver, and was expected to draw more than 20,000 attendees and 500+ exhibitors, many with links to the kitchen and bath market.
  • Cersaie: The world’s largest international exhibition of ceramic tile and bathroom furnishings, initially postponed until Nov. 9-13 from its original Sept. 28-Oct. 2 date, has been cancelled entirely according to event organizers Confindustria Ceramica and EdiCer SpA.
  • 2020 Remodeling Show: The physical portion of the 2020 Remodeling Show has been cancelled, according to Informa Markets, organizer of the event, previously scheduled for Oct. 13-15 at the Baltimore Convention Center.

Other cancelled, postponed or reformatted live events include EuroCucina 2020, the 2020 Architectural Digest Design Show, Coverings 2020, JCL LIVE 2020, NeoCon, the Pacific Coast Builders Conference, the 2020 Realtors Conference & Expo, and the American Institute of Architects Conference on Architecture 2020.

 

KBIS, IBS Being Impacted

In the midst of the cancellations, other major events – including the co-located Kitchen & Bath Industry (KBIS) and the International Builders’ Show (IBS), scheduled for Feb. 9-11, 2021 in Orlando – are literally being “reimagined” in the face of ever-changing guidelines tied to the phased reopening of the U.S. economy, along with company-imposed travel restrictions and a lingering – and, in some cases, growing – reluctance among potential attendees and exhibiting personnel to attend large, face-to-face gatherings.

Attendance at the 2021 KBIS/IBS, an estimated 100,000 people in the past, is virtually impossible for show planners to gauge at this point, given unpredictable, fast-changing virus-related uncertainties. Exhibitors, with exhibit space already committed and monetary balances for booth costs due in early September, simply cannot be certain if projected attendance will match expectations.

Emerald Holding has been working with KBIS owners, the National Kitchen & Bath Association, as well as with convention center and area public-health officials, in a coordinated effort to ensure the health, safety and viability of the 2021 KBIS, according to show officials.

Under review, among other aspects of the show, are new health and safety protocols for general cleaning, sanitation and disinfection, staggered entrance to the show, and traffic flow in registration areas, exhibit halls, meeting rooms, food and beverage access, and other areas.

Emerald’s recently announced “Preparedness, Prevention and Response Plan,” according to the company, represents a “comprehensive approach” aimed at assuring “the safe reopening of live events, while placing the highest priority on the wellbeing of Emerald’s customers, staff and communities.”

Developed by a team comprised of industry associations, facility partners, suppliers, vendors and local and state authorities, the plan is aimed at achieving an “overarching standard for health and safety, and a supporting framework around the protocols being developed for Emerald events scheduled to take place later this year and beyond,” said Emerald,

“Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, our focus has been on the health and safety of our customers, our staff and our communities,” said Brian Field, Emerald interim president and CEO. “Though this time has been hugely disruptive, both research and conversations with our customers and communities have reinforced the desire and necessity to return to face-to-face events as soon as practical.”

“As we build the pathways to safely reopen our events, the driving force behind Emerald’s Preparedness, Prevention and Response Plan is our commitment to providing assurance and confidence that our events put health and safety as our top priority,” Field added. “We look forward to reconnecting our customers and communities while reinvigorating the industries we serve – all in a productive and safe environment.”

With KBIS 2021 some eight months away, show organizers said they “do not foresee any changes at this time,” adding that they are “actively planning” for the show.

“The KBIS team is monitoring the situation daily and following the guidelines set forth by our federal and local government and health agencies, and are in close, ongoing contact with local Orlando authorities,” Emerald said, adding that it is implementing control measures and best practices recommended by the CDC and local health officials around the show and on-site. Show organizers have also established a COVID-19 Resource Center on the KBIS web site.

“At this time of global concern, the health and safety of our communities, customers and team members is of the utmost importance, and we are committed to the overall well-being of our industry,” Emerald said.

The trade show producer said it is “closely monitoring the fast-moving developments regarding COVID-19” in accordance with guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) and World Health Organizations (WHO) – as well as federal, state and local governments – and is “prepared to take action as the need arises.”

The National Association of Home Builders, owner of the International Builders’ Show, is currently surveying past attendees regarding their attitude about attending the 2021 show, based on current business conditions, the unlikelihood of a vaccine being developed in time, and ongoing concerns about the COVID-19 crisis, which is currently worsening in Florida.

The NAHB survey is asking past attendees whether they’re “very likely,” “somewhat likely,” “somewhat unlikely,” “very unlikely” or currently unsure about their plans to attend. Being assessed are attitudes regarding reduced or limited flights into Orlando, limited hotel, restaurant and theme park accessibility, as well as feelings about being able to maintain appropriate social distancing in exhibit halls, meeting facilities and classrooms. Also being solicited are opinions regarding the ability for the IBS, the Orange County Convention Center and Orlando-area hotels to have effective health/safety plans in place.

“Uncertainty has in many ways defined 2020,” said the Washington, DC-based National Association of Realtors, echoing the view of domestic and foreign show producers. “While positive indicators begin to show our economy is rebounding, and treatment options for COVID-19 are proving more effective, so much remains unknown about this virus and the circumstances we will face as a nation come this fall.”

ELIOT SEFRIN

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