This is the final post in the Coronavirus Case Studies series. Every post in this series has talked about how the coronavirus pandemic of 2020 will affect different businesses for years to come. We’re all still processing this massive, life-changing event. This week, in this last post, we talk about how coronavirus will affect the convention industry. 

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Before we get into the details of the post, I want to take a moment to level with you. This year has been one of the hardest years in recent memory. COVID-19 has taken so much from all of us, all while reshaping day-to-day life.

In a year filled with so much uncertainty, I think it is vital to take a moment to step back and breathe. If this year has shown us anything, it is just how fragile life can be.

As you read this post, remember: things might look different right now, but that doesn’t mean that it will always be this way. As cliche as it sounds, we are all in this together, and we can get through this dark time. 

What are Conventions?

Dictionary.com defines conventions as, “a meeting or formal assembly, as of representatives or delegates, for discussion of and action on particular matters of common concern.” In short, a convention is a group of people gathering together around a common interest. 

The convention industry is huge. If you don’t believe it, check out these facts from Statista. Emphasis is ours.

In 2017, there were 250 convention centers in the United States. The largest convention center in the U.S. was McCormick Place in Chicago, Illinois at 2.6 million square feet. Globally, the largest exhibition center can be found outside of the United States in Hannover, Germany – the Hannover Messegelände has a gross hall capacity of 463,165 square meters.

Exhibition, Convention & Meeting Industry – Statistics & Facts, Statisa

Buildings that big are expensive to maintain, and even the land alone costs a lot. So with that in mind, it is safe to say that A LOT of people attend conventions regularly. Or rather, they did before this year.

There’s a Convention for Everything

There are conventions for almost everything you can imagine. You have Comic-Con in San Diego, California, which is one of the biggest annual conventions in the United States. It’s a “multi-genre entertainment and comic book convention.”

But not all conventions are that wide in scope or popular. There are shoe conventions, make-up conventions, board game conventions, and tattoo conventions just to name a few.

But that still doesn’t tell you exactly what it’s like to go to one. So I’ll give you an anecdote from my own life, before the virus. Literary Ink is a Harry Potter-themed tattoo convention here in Chattanooga, Tennessee. At this convention, you will see people dressed like they are characters in Harry Potter, Butterbeer stands, as well as dozens and dozens of people getting Harry Potter themed tattoos! This convention was one of the most fun weekends that I have ever had – partly due to being surrounded by people who are interested in the exact same thing as me. 

On the complete flip side, you have conventions like the Internet Retailer Conference & Exhibition (IRCE). Their convention, as with many others, is strictly business. They provide a space for small online companies and large retailers alike to interact on neutral ground. It’s a huge deal for many start-ups and established companies alike.

Predictions for the Convention Industry

The convention industry, of course, is in flux. Gathering a lot of people in a big open room with little social distancing is asking for trouble with a disease like coronavirus being so widespread. In fact, one of the earliest known superspreader events was the Biogen Conference in Boston that took place from February 26-27, 2020.

So with that in mind, I’ll conclude by making a few predictions on the future of the convention industry for now.

1. Conventions will continue to be cancelled or postponed until the spread of COVID-19 is under control.

As much as I hate to say it, the reality of hosting a convention during the pandemic is stark and blunt: it’s a very, very bad idea. Even this year’s Literary Ink convention had to be canceled.

Conventions pack thousands of people into a single building. Due to the nature of COVID-19, in addition to laws and regulations imposed on social gatherings, most conventions have had to either postpone or cancel their conventions this year.

As sad as this is, it’s just one of the realities of living in a pandemic. Mass gatherings remain one of the easiest ways to spread the virus.

2. When conventions resume, fewer people will attend, at least for the near-term future.

When conventions resume, there will probably be less foot traffic at first. Thousands of people in close quarters right after a highly contagious pandemic is not an attractive prospect to health-conscious individuals. People will likely remain scared even if the spread of the virus is controlled by herd immunity or a vaccine.

Conventions will likely sell fewer tickets at first, both because of lack of demand and also because of social distancing policies. However, we won’t really know how much demand will be affected when conventions start back up again. We have no precedents to draw upon.

3. The earliest conventions to resume may have additional health and safety measures.

When conventions resume, we will probably see them asking guests to adhere to at least some health guidelines. They may take temperatures at the door, and they may have mask policies. They might ask attendants if they’ve had any symptoms before letting them inside. All of this would be intended to keep sick people away from healthy guests.

Final Thoughts

As we wrap up this series, I encourage yout to stay positive and hopeful. It is so easy to let yourself sink into negative thinking, especially this year.

Remember: COVID-19 might change how we operate on a societal level, but it does not change who we are at the core. Find time to take a step back and breathe. Know that no matter how different our lives might look right now, we can get through this. 

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