As Meetings Reopen, How to Hold a Trade Show Safely

IAEE's detailed white paper lays out guidelines for hygiene, signage, event operations and more.

As trade show organizers seek reliable guidance on how to hold large-scale events safely as they are allowed to return, the International Association of Exhibitions and Events has released a detailed white paper that lays out guidelines for almost every aspect of exhibition planning. Titled "Essential Considerations for Safely Reopening Exhibitions and Events, Version One", the 35-page document was created in partnership with the guidance of the Global Biorisk Advisory Council and industry organizations, including the Society of Independent Show Organizers and International Association of Venue Managers, covering areas from attendee hygiene to signage to event operations.

"Although we are eager to get back to our usual face-to-face business environment, safety must be the top priority and we must look to the science and medical communities for the best ways to go about producing our shows," said IAEE president and CEO David DuBois, CMP, CAE, FASAE, CTA. "IAEE's Health and Safety Task Force teamed with associations across the industry to collaborate with the Global Biorisk Advisory Council in order to make sure we are applying the best information available to us as this most recent pandemic progresses."

The white paper's authors emphasized that the guidelines are meant to provide a general overview and will have to be tailored to each individual event — that the audience, industry, venue and destination must all be taken into consideration when instituting these practices, and with the understanding that the pandemic situation remains fluid. 

It is organized into five sections, each tackling a major area of exhibitions. Some of the best practices IAEE suggests are as follows:

General Principles for Event Health and Safety Operations

  • Use signage and other visual markers to promote physical distancing of at least six feet between attendees, encouraging attendees to sit in alternating rows and/or seats.
  • Designate separate entrances and exits and encourage one-way traffic flow.
  • Alleviate congestion in high-volume areas (registration, restrooms, elevators) and develop protocols for confined spaces such as elevators (e.g., by limiting ride capacity).
  • When required, face masks should be worn no more than twice before being washed or replaced with a fresh one.
  • Place hand-sanitizing stations at key locations throughout the event venue, including in restaurants, meeting rooms and the exhibit hall.
  • Consider conducting temperature screening with "no-touch" thermometers at every point of entry.
  • Quarantine and send home symptomatic individuals.

Communication, Education and Awareness

"Communication on COVID-19 protocols should be easy to understand and include as much information as possible, shared via multiple channels (e.g., event website, mobile app, posters, infographics, physical media, email communications, communications from leadership, etc.)," the white paper advises. This includes:

  • Pre-show messaging that communicates the latest information from local health authorities, health protection measures and more
  • Consistent communication with attendees through the event website and app, with urgent messages sent via SMS
  • A clear communication plan with supplier and venue partners on screening protocols for those arriving to the venue
  • An infection-control procedure and response plan with the venue, as well as response protocols for those who do not follow local or state mandates
  • A plan for staff/contractor arrival and departure that minimizes gathering in entry and exit points

Exhibition and Event Operations

  • Following the International Association of Venue Managers' Crowd Density Framework, calculate a radius of three feet of space (meaning six feet distance between each person) for each attendee. This equates to a physical distancing space per person of approximately 28 square feet.
  • Consider staggering exhibit floor access, with strict caps on the number of attendees at a given time, as well as one-way aisle traffic and increased aisle width.
  • Maximize the amount of pre-event registration in order to minimize queues at the event itself. Replace physical badges and lanyards with digital credentials.
  • Work with the contracted shuttle transportation company to ensure hand sanitizers are in the vehicles, sanitization processes for the vehicles are being followed, onboard food-and-beverage restrictions are in place, and vehicle air filtration systems are being used.

Convention Center/Venue Cleaning Measures

Based on GBAC guidelines, these procedures are "intended to provide process and procedural options for cleaning, disinfection and infectious-disease prevention for event and convention facilities," according to IAEE.

  • Consider the use of High-Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) vacuums on all carpets.
  • Prohibit self-serve water stations with any touch point.
  • Appoint a designated disinfection technician who is responsible for ensuring the disinfection of all surfaces on the exhibit floor, including booths, tables, door handles and trash cans.
  • Appoint a lobby attendant who is responsible for ensuring that elevators and escalators are checked and cleaned every two hours, with particular attention to high-touch points such as buttons and railings.
  • Appoint a room attendant who ensures meeting rooms are cleaned with approved chemicals and that hand-sanitizer stations have been replenished. 

Legal Considerations

Exhibition organizers will need to keep in mind a number of legal issues in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • Familiarize the team with the latest safety requirements and laws for the location where the event is taking place.
  • Take steps to protect yourself from liability by looking at lists of factors — such as those mentioned in this white paper — and making decisions about what can be done under the show's specific circumstances to lessen the chance of spreading both disease and litigation.
  • Document the safety measures being put into place and the frequency of cleanings, sanitization-station refilling, and so forth.

The full report can be downloaded here.