The SARS impact

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Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreaks have slowed, but many trade show producers continue to feel the business effects of the health crisis. Many have canceled or rescheduled their conferences, often because of cancellations from exhibitors or attendees.

"Any place identified as a SARS hotspot, including Toronto, has generated great anxiety in people going there," said Bob Krakoff, chairman-CEO of Advanstar Communications Inc.

Fear of SARS prompted a few exhibitor cancellations for Call Centre Canada, an Advanstar show held in Ontario in April. "They were afraid about going to a city the World Health Organization had declared a SARS hotspot," Krakoff said.

Communications Asia, an Advanstar show that was scheduled for Singapore in June, was canceled in May.

Other trade show producers have been feeling the effects as well. Primary Care Today, a Diversified Business Communications Inc. show scheduled for mid-May in Toronto, was canceled because of the WHO recommendation against travel to Toronto. The company postponed the show until this fall, in part because of concerns about gathering medical professionals in an affected area. "We wouldn’t have rescheduled it if it hadn’t been a show targeted to the medical profession," said Vicki Hennin, VP-marketing communications at Diversified.

Penton Media Inc. postponed its Natural Products Expo, which was slated for May in Hong Kong. "We had to scramble and move that to December, with the obvious assumption that the threat will have abated by then," said Darrell Denny, president of Penton Lifestyle Media and IT Media at Penton Media.

The impact will be felt particularly by shows that attract a significant Asian attendance, Denny predicted. In fact, many Chinese show-goers are grounded, following a governmental mandate. The China Advertising Association withdrew 90 delegates from the 2003 International Cannes Advertising Festival, in Cannes, France, June 15-21.

Meanwhile, industry associations are trying to keep their members up-to-date on the latest information. The International Association for Exhibition Management has e-mailed the Centers for Disease Control’s SARS guidelines to its members.

Others are addressing the topic with special sessions. The International Association of Business Communicators today hosts a session called "Interpreting Chaos: Communicating During the SARS Crisis," a last-minute addition to its conference in Toronto.

Some producers have set standards for admission, though not without some resistance. The JCK Show, a Reed Business Information show scheduled to take place in Las Vegas May 30-June 3, announced it would relegate jewelry exhibitors from Hong Kong to a location separate from the exhibit floor. After protests and 40 exhibitor cancellations, the show reversed that decision. Show organizers did insist that attendees from locations under WHO travel advisories enter the U.S. 10 days before the show and get a medical exam at least two days prior to the show.

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