How trade shows are affected by Covid19

Tradeshows are major events where companies and professionals within specific industries can network, spread news of their products and services, and learn about the latest trends, technology, and advancements.  Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has led to the cancelling of all tradeshows and similar events in 2020, making the future of tradeshows uncertain.

One of the appeals of industry tradeshows is that people within the industry can meet face to face and get a hands-on experience with new products.  This is also what made tradeshows dangerous in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.  The widespread cancellation of tradeshows cost many businesses that had been planning for these shows a lot of money in planning and potential revenue.

So what is the future of the tradeshow?  While tradeshows were experiencing a slight decline in attendance before the pandemic, there is no reason to believe that they will not come back.  Tradeshows are still very valuable for many industries as a way to inform about new products and services, trends, and technological advancements.  Technology used at tradeshows for registration and attendee tracking make contactless events possible which will help keep attendees and exhibitors safe.

In this guide, we will discuss what tradeshows may look like in the future, how to plan for future tradeshows, and how technology like RFID attendance tracking can be integrated into future shows.

What Could Future Tradeshows Look Like?

The suspension of tradeshows due to the COVID-19 pandemic and reevaluation of whether tradeshows are necessary for businesses to attend is changing the way industries view tradeshows.  Businesses have already been thinking of ways to attend fewer in-person events and reallocate their budgets.  As a result, the following tradeshow alternatives have been discussed:

  • Virtual tradeshows: There has been a discussion about moving traditional in-person tradeshows online which will save companies costs on travel, lodging, and setting up and tearing down their booths.
  • Showcase webinars: These are webinars put on by a company in which they will invite industry insiders, consumers, and journalists to introduce a new product or service.
  • Special events: More businesses are considering hosting their own events for their industry and inviting a select few people while streaming the event online.

While discussion of these alternatives has gained traction during the current pandemic, there is no reason to believe that these alternatives will replace traditional in-person tradeshows.  The experience of meeting face to face with important players in an industry and experiencing a product first-hand and in-person is too great to be replaced by fully virtual events in the long run.  The tradeshow industry will evolve, and traditional tradeshows will retain their importance when we move past the pandemic.

How Will Tradeshows Change?

The tradeshow industry is a resilient industry and there are several changes that can be made to keep in-person tradeshows safe after the COVID-19 pandemic.  The following are the main ways that tradeshows are expected to change in 2021.

Contingency Planning

It has always been important for tradeshow managers to have a contingency plan in place in case of a disaster, but the COVID-19 pandemic will change the way we approach contingency plans.  The pandemic caught the industry by surprise and resulted in large financial losses.  Tradeshow managers will do more to protect against unforeseen circumstances in the future.

Participating businesses and venues will likely be more careful about losing revenue when planning future tradeshows while tradeshow managers will do everything they can to ensure the event they plan and invest in will take place.  You can expect contracts and cancellation terms to be re-worded so that there is a clearer plan of action should an event get cancelled.


In the past, insurance policies for tradeshows often didn’t cover things like flooding, terrorism, and outbreaks of communicable diseases.  This is mostly because insurers didn’t offer this type of coverage.  It is difficult to tell if insurance companies will start to offer coverage for these types of unforeseen events, and it will certainly be in the best interest of tradeshow managers to have comprehensive insurance for their events.

Tradeshow Technology

As mentioned above, there has been a discussion about making tradeshows virtual through live streaming.  However, it is difficult to imagine tradeshows becoming completely virtual in the future as live streaming and even virtual reality (VR) cannot fully recreate the experience of being at a tradeshow in person.

One way tradeshow technology can make tradeshows safer after the COVID-19 pandemic is by making contactless tradeshows possible.  RFID tracking has already been in use at tradeshows to track attendance at the event as well as the movements of attendees.  RFID badges can also allow entry to special events and seminars within the tradeshow.  Tradeshow managers and exhibitors can access this data through software and mobile apps, virtually eliminating the need to come into close contact with the attendees.

We are not saying that the contact between attendees and exhibitors should or would diminish.  Exhibitors can still talk to attendees from a safe distance as the RFID tracking system automatically gathers important attendee data.

Uncertain Supply and Demand

At this time, it is difficult to tell when the tradeshow industry will stabilize after COVID-19 is no longer an immediate threat.  There is likely to be a strong demand as event organizers will try and find a way to make their postponed events happen.  This could lead to a lot of events taking place within a short timeframe which will decrease the supply of available venues and staff to help work the events.

It is also possible that the opposite could happen as organizers may be hesitant to schedule tradeshows right away out of fear of having the events cancelled.  The best-case scenario for all involved is for the tradeshow industry to stabilize and return to activity levels similar to the days before the pandemic.

Health and Safety Etiquette

During the COVID-19 pandemic, people have been practicing social distancing to help prevent the spread of the disease.  This includes keeping 6 feet of personal space, wearing masks when out in public, and frequent hand washing and use of hand sanitizer.

It is highly likely that these social distancing measures will carry over into tradeshow environments.  Guests may be required to wear masks and keep a safe distance between themselves and others.  There may also be hand sanitizer available through the event for exhibitors and attendees.

In person interaction is an important component of the tradeshow experience that is difficult to fully replicate through digital mediums.  People will still be able to interact and network at tradeshows while practicing social distancing.

How Can Beacon and RFID Technology Keep Tradeshows Safe?

Bluetooth low-energy beacons and radio frequency identification (RFID) technologies have already been in use at tradeshows to track attendance data and distribute content to attendees.  However, these automated technologies will likely come to dominate the industry as they make it possible for tradeshow managers and exhibitors to gather attendee data and distribute content to the attendees digitally.  These minimally invasive technologies will reduce the need for direct contact and make contactless tradeshows possible.

Beacons and RFID event solutions can be used at tradeshows in the following ways:


Beacons work through Bluetooth connections and allow exhibitors and tradeshow managers to distribute content to attendees who have downloaded the event app and turned on the Bluetooth feature of their phones.  Attendees can receive special offers, coupons, passes to seminars or other events, and food vouchers in real time through beacon-enabled phone apps.  Exhibitors and event managers can also put out push notifications for a call to action when attendees enter a certain vicinity of the event.

Through beacon technology, attendees can find their way around the event, similar to a GPS.  Beacon-enabled apps will give attendees turn-by-turn instructions to navigate the event.

RFID Event Solutions

RFID tracking technology can be utilized at tradeshows in the following ways:

  • Attendee tracking: RFID technology can be used to track attendees using badges embedded with an RFID chip that is scanned by RFID readers throughout the event. RFID readers can be set up at entrances to the event as well as entrances to seminars and workshops within the event.  Exhibitors can also set up RFID readers to track attendees near their booth.  The data from RFID attendance tracking can be accessed in real time through mobile apps and other software.
  • Fraud detection: RFID readers make it easy to tell if a badge is being used inappropriately or if it has been stolen or counterfeited. Readers at entrances of areas within the event that cost extra can help ensure that only those who have paid to attend are admitted.
  • Interactive experiences: Attendees can unlock interactive experiences when readers at certain locations of the event pick up their badges. Exhibitors can give special offers and prizes to those who visit their booths and event managers can give credits for food and other activities when attendees check in at various locations.

RFID Event Solutions from ExpoTools

The COVID-19 pandemic put a major dent in the tradeshow industry for 2020, but we expect traditional in-person tradeshows to return in 2021.  However, it is likely that tradeshows will look different for a while as social distancing may be required which will change the way people interact.  Still, there is no adequate virtual substitute for the experiences of a traditional tradeshow.  Event managers must exercise due diligence to plan tradeshow events in 2020 that are safe for exhibitors and attendees.

If you are thinking ahead to 2021 and are in the process of planning a tradeshow, ExpoTools USA can help with our RFID attendee tracking solutions.  We can provide everything you need for RFID passive tracking including the RFID embedded badges and readers, and we will work with you to place the readers strategically around the event to gather the desired data.

Do not hesitate to give ExpoTools a call to help you get your tradeshow ready for 2021.

Expo Tools USA
1-866-229-8470 (no support)