The COVID-19 surge could be putting the convention business on hold once again.

In recent weeks, a number of prominent trade-show and exhibition organizers have put a halt to events scheduled in the coming weeks because of the COVID-19 surge fueled by the delta variant.

One of the latest to pull the plug: the National Rifle Association, which cancelled its annual meeting set for early September in Houston.

“We make this difficult decision after analyzing relevant data regarding COVID-19 in Harris County, Texas,” the association said via Twitter
“We also consulted with medical professionals, local officials, major sponsors & exhibitors, and many NRA members before arriving at this decision.”

In New York City, officials with the Fancy Food Show, an annual gourmet gathering that draws thousands of exhibitors and attendees to the Javits Center, and the New York International Antiquarian Book Fair, an event held at the Park Avenue Armory, also recently announced cancellations. Both events were scheduled for September.

In a statement, organizers of the book fair said the event had already received a “significant” number of COVID-related cancellations from booksellers planning to attend, so it had little choice but to forgo the whole event. The fair has been rescheduled for April 2022.

“This decision was not made lightly,” said fair producer Sanford Smith in a statement.

Similarly, the Specialty Food Association, organizers of the Fancy Food Show, said the COVID concerns were hard to ignore.

Safety concerns

“Safety remains our number-one priority,” said association president Bill Lynch in a statement. The association still plans on holding a digital component of the show, dubbed Fancy Food 24/7, in the early fall.

Other shows that have been cancelled recently range from the New York International Auto Show to the North American Association of Food Equipment Manufacturers (NAFEM) show in Orlando.

The trade-show and exhibition industry, an $11 billion behemoth, had been poised for a comeback following a year in which countless events were cancelled due to the pandemic.

Now, that comeback could be in jeopardy. In turn, that could have financial ramifications for the hospitality and tourism industries, which rely heavily on conventions to fuel their business.

‘We are confident in NYC’s ability to safely host events on every scale and we continue to work closely with organizers.’

— Fred Dixon, president and chief executive of NYC & Company

Some remain bullish about exhibitions, however. The Javits Center, for example, has at least 40 events booked through the end of the year, Javits president and chief executive Alan Steel told MarketWatch.

Fred Dixon, president and chief executive of NYC & Company, the city’s official tourism organization, said in a statement that, “We are confident in NYC’s ability to safely host events on every scale and we continue to work closely with organizers.”

In Las Vegas, the event business also appears to be rolling ahead. Officials with the Las Vegas Convention Center say no upcoming shows have been cancelled and events taking place are adhering to a Nevada mask mandate that went into effect a few weeks ago.

One New York City show that went forward earlier this month was Bar Convent Brooklyn, a major industry gathering of those in the bar, liquor and cocktail world. To help ensure safety, event organizers required that all attendees be vaccinated and that they wear masks — at least when they weren’t drinking.

Prior to the bar show, Jackie Williams, director of the event, said industry professionals are looking forward to meeting again after well more than a year of not having such an opportunity in a trade-show setting.

“Face-to-face is so important in this industry,” she said.

In addition to conventions, entertainment events are also being cancelled due to the latest coronavirus spike. A noteworthy example: the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, which was set for October. Festival organizers said they are planning on holding the program next spring.

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