Orange County Convention Center Hosts First Trade Show Since March

The event drew more than 1,400 attendees in person — with temperature checks and masks required.

Mark Tester, executive director of the Orange County Convention Center, welcomes attendees to the Together Again Expo. Photo Credit: Orange County Convention Center

How the GBAC Star Program Is Helping Meetings to Restart Safely
In this episode of the Eventful podcast, leaders from the Global Biorisk Advisory Council and the Georgia World Congress Center, the first venue in the U.S. to earn the GBAC Star accreditation, discuss why this program is key to the return of face-to-face meetings. Listen here.

The meetings industry is slowly getting back to business, with small in-person gatherings already happening across the country. Convention centers are also looking to safely welcome guests back and Orlando's Orange County Convention Center is leading the way. On July 24, the convention center hosted the Together Again Expo, its first exhibition since the pandemic struck. The hybrid event was attended by 1,405 people in person  and 8,225 attendees online.

"After five long months, we restart the exposition industry here today," said Mark Yuska, CEO of Alliance Nationwide Exposition, which helped organize the event in collaboration with the Orange County Convention Center. "The Together Again Expo serves as a model for safe and responsible events to return here in the United States. Let this be the beginning of the restart. Let this be the return of the 6.7 million jobs that have been lost in the live event industry."

The Together Again Expo brought together industry professionals for a daylong discussion on how to safely navigate the return of face-to-face events. For many, it was their first time traveling and attending a meeting in months. 

"People were incredibly enthusiastic because, like me, this was the first industry event or convention center that they've walked into in the last five months," said David Dubois, president and CEO of the International Association of Exhibitions and Events. "But more importantly, it helped to breed positive momentum that our industry can produce a safe and comfortable event with physical distancing and sanitation protocols. I felt very comfortable. As long as you have your mask on and everything, it's safer than driving a car."

Among the safety protocols taken at the event were temperature checks at the door, socially distanced sponsor booths, increased sanitation and a no handshaking rule. The exhibit halls were kept at 50 percent capacity and all attendees were required to wear masks.

The Orange County Convention Center recently received GBAC Star accreditation. The new program from the Global Biorisk Advisory Council ensures that a venue has the proper procedures, training and equipment in place to prepare for, respond to and recover from infectious diseases such as COVID-19. A new partnership with Visit Orlando and Orlando Health also provides medical concierge services for all events held at the Orange County Convention Center in 2020.

During panel sessions throughout the day, medical experts and industry association leaders discussed how to host a safe and successful live event during COVID-19. The panelists also touched on the need for event planners to reevaluate traditional strategies and use this time to make their meetings more relevant, improve revenue models and better prepare for future crises.

"The business events industry is resilient. Exhibitions have proven so time and time again," said Cathy Breden, CEO of the Center for Exhibition Industry Research. "After each recession, after each crisis, it comes back. I'm hoping that this time around, we will have learned our lesson and that we will have all our structures in place so that when the next crisis hits, we'll be ready and have all the tools to respond to it."