24. September 2020 | Expo & Event Marketing, inside stories

CARAVAN SALON is sending an important signal to the trade fair industry

by Melanie Günther (exclusively for EuroShop.mag)

After many months of uncertainty, a long wait, and new concepts, the first trade shows have finally reemerged in Germany in early September. Apart from the Nordstil trade expo in Hamburg, the Ifa in Berlin or the Creativa in Dortmund, Messe Düsseldorf has now also opened its doors to visitors with the CARAVAN SALON, following strict guidelines for safety and hygiene. As a passionate trade fair aficionado, I simply had to be there to catch the new trade fair vibe first-hand. 

Getting back to business with PROTaction

Information boards indicate infection prevention behaviors in accordance with the latest official guidelines.

Information boards indicate infection prevention behaviors in accordance with the latest official guidelines. © Messe Düsseldorf/ctillmann

My first impression of the event: There are no crowds at the entrances or eating venues. The aisles at certain hotspots of the exhibition halls are also not as congested as usual. Instead, I am greeted by widened aisles, open doors wherever I look, social distancing signs and traffic flow spacers, access restrictions, and sanitizer dispensers on every corner.

The optical design of trade fairs is changing, not least thanks to a sophisticated hygiene concept that Messe Düsseldorf has dubbed “PROTaction – Back to Business”. At the North Entrance, posted signs inform me how to correctly wait in line and remind me to keep a safe distance between myself and the person in front of me. The signs are easy to understand and I line up as instructed to protect myself and others. Patience is a virtue we must all cultivate these days.

Since I arrive on a weekday, the crowds are somewhat limited. I already purchased my ticket online. Incidentally, this process is an integral part of the hygiene concept, because entry is not permitted without registering your personal and contact information. It goes without saying that this complies with applicable data protection laws as it pertains tracking. The tickets are also a way to control the number of on-site visitors: a maximum of 20,000 visitors may enter the CARAVAN SALON per day.

 

The trade show geared up for the “big rush” during the weekends. After all, the CARAVAN SALON is a B2C trade fair that is also highly frequented by families. Not to worry, Messe Düsseldorf was prepared for this and long lines of visitors were rerouted through the empty Hall 8a, ensuring social distancing.

OK, I am in!

Preparation is paramount for visiting a trade fair

Needless to say, I am wearing a face mask on the fair grounds. During my visit, I noticed a few black sheep that didn’t comply, but the PROTaction guides on the premises – a kind of “hygiene police” – kindly asked the respective visitors to comply with the indicated guidelines. Most culprits I saw that day responded immediately and willingly swapped their face shields for a face mask.

And something else that’s different: The average visitor is now privy to processes that typically take place in the background. Hygiene stewards are working non-stop to clean frequently touched surfaces such as escalators, tables, or toilets.

 

The exhibitors have also adapted to the situation and are well prepared. They are responsible for hygiene compliance at their booth and are advised and supported by Messe Düsseldorf. A minor drawback: booth concepts now feature a more minimalist design. Trade show booths look emptier and the “experience” factor is occasionally missing. But that’s when I remind myself that all the typical bells and whistles and gadgets take up tons of space, allowing less room for physical distancing in the process.

Many exhibitors have also carefully taken consulting services into consideration and created areas that offer a retreat for customers. It’s here where exhibitors and visitors can take off their masks behind a Plexiglas barrier and take a breather. (Incidentally, the ventilation systems circulate fresh air and ensure frequent air exchange.) Some exhibitors also featured temperature sensors to measure body temperature.

Forums: Lots of space between you and others

 

A table is divided into two areas - disinfected and used, microphones are located accordingly in

I was also able to catch a glimpse behind the scenes that day. © Messe Düsseldorf/ctillmann

If I had my way, this concept would become a blueprint for “trade fairs outside of coronavirus settings”. That’s because chairs are actually 1.5 meters apart – to the front, back and on both sides. It means you no longer step on people’s toes to reserve seats, which always tend to be located in the middle of the room. Of course I realize that’s wishful thinking on my part.

The Forums feature a self-contained concept: Visitors are only allowed to enter and leave via designated areas and may not move in the area between the chairs. This also applied to me, even though I stood in front of the camera that day. I received a polite reminder by the moderator that day to practice social distancing. It only makes sense because the rules apply to everyone!

From outdoor exhibition grounds to the food mile

Right on cue, my stomach growled at lunchtime. So I was off to visit the food mile outside the exhibition halls, which is a combination of fairground stalls and food trucks. It wasn’t until July that Messe Düsseldorf opened up the pop-up theme park “DüsselLand”, giving numerous carnival operators and food vendors the chance to finally open back up for business. After all, this is yet another industry sector that suffers from the coronavirus restrictions. There were no carnival rides that day, but an extensive selection of sausages, fries, crepes, and vegan snacks were there for the taking. The nice weather played a big role in the success of these venues as many visitors stayed outside and enjoyed the fall sun – while keeping their distance from others. Yet I secretly wondered whether people would still take advantage of this option had it rained that day. At the time, the CARAVAN SALON didn’t feature any shelters, tents, or canopies.

In the mood for trade fairs: A successful concept

The launch of the CARAVAN SALON sent a powerful signal to the trade show industry in Germany and Europe: “We are very excited and proud to finally be back to doing what we do best: hosting trade fairs, bringing people together, enabling encounters for networking, and offering exhibitors a platform to showcase their innovations. […] Our hygiene concept worked outstandingly well,” Erhard Wienkamp, Managing Director of Messe Düsseldorf, summed up the new concept.

Hopefully, successful events like the CARAVAN SALON will have a lasting, positive impact on the future of trade shows and B2B industry growth, and whet the appetite of visitors and exhibitors for more trade shows to come. I, for one, have never felt uncomfortable in any way and look forward to my next in-person trade show visit to EuroCIS 2021.

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