ISE’s organizers are saying they expect visitor counts to be down from Chinese attendees when the show starts on Feb. 11 in Amsterdam – the drop owing to the Wuhan coronavirus outbreak.
The show says 3.2% of the attendees in 2019 were from China. There were some 80,000 attendees, so that’s about 2,500 people. The statement does not make it clear whether Chinese nationals who were there as exhibitors rolls into that number.
Sorting the ISE 2020 exhibitor list reveals 287 exhibitors declare themselves as Chinese. In all, there are 1,387 exhibitors. If we, for argument’s sake, estimate four staff per exhibitor, that’s about 1,150 people.
A reduction in ISE visitor head count from China is inevitable for a few reasons:
- Some companies may have staffers who have developed symptoms of the virus and need to stay put;
- Some may be based in cities that are “locked down” in terms of travel;
- Some may have booked flights on airlines that have cancelled flights over health risks or, in some cases, saw their plans nixed because booking loads are down to a point that flights to and from China will operate at losses, so the airline has dropped flights.
I assume the larger exhibitors have long since freight-shipped their stands and gear to Amsterdam. Air-freighting closer to the show would be terrifyingly expensive.
The challenge for some of these Chinese exhibitors may be having available staff to build and wire up their booths when the crates come in from the loading dock or storage. The local exhibitor services people can put up walls and roll out carpets, but they can’t (and you don’t want them to) do things like erect and light up fragile, finicky LED video walls.
So EMEA and North American sales people might find themselves pitching in for set-up and tear-down – common for small companies, but not for the larger ones. Some of the technical people may also not make it because of flights being cancelled, so some sales engineering questions may go unanswered.
That would be a problem for those companies that don’t market heavily or staff outside of China. But candidly, a great many of those companies staff booths with people – even sales people – who really can’t converse outside of the Mandarin language. Been frustrated many times by that.
So the wish in some circles that Chinese exhibitors would stay away, whether show organizers asked them or not, is kinda sorta being realized by circumstances. The risk of picking up the virus remains, but the risk of getting the flu is probably much higher, as both Type A and B are active in Europe at the moment.
The official word Thursday from ISE’s organizers was:
The advice as of now is not meant to limit global travel or business. The WHO stressed that restricting the movement of people and goods during public health emergencies may be ineffective.
Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said:
“There is no reason for measures that unnecessarily interfere with international travel and trade. WHO doesn’t recommend limiting trade and movement.
“We call on all countries to implement decisions that are evidence-based and consistent.”
ISE expects a reduced presence from Chinese visitors (who in 2019 comprised 3.2% of attendees) given that many airlines are cancelling flights to and from China. We are in close liaison with our Chinese exhibitors in this fast-moving situation.
We continue to monitor communications from WHO, ECDC and local health agencies, airports and venues regarding international travel and health precautions.
The RAI’s on-site medical teams and doctors have been instructed on how to identify symptoms and deal with any potential cases. Team numbers will be increased for ISE 2020.
We continue to recommend general precautions to reduce the risk of infection, as recommended by the WHO, which include:
• Avoiding close contact with people suffering from acute respiratory infections.
• Frequent hand-washing, especially after direct contact with ill people or their environment.
• Avoiding unprotected contact with farm or wild animals.
• People with symptoms of acute respiratory infection should practice cough etiquette (maintain distance, cover coughs and sneezes with disposable tissues or clothing, and wash hands).WHO does not recommend any specific health measures for travellers. In case of symptoms suggestive of respiratory illness either during or after travel, travellers are encouraged to seek medical attention and share their travel history with their healthcare provider.
We will continue to review the situation and adapt our advice accordingly.
Dave Haynes is the founder and editor of Sixteen:Nine, an online publication that has followed the digital signage industry for some 14 years. Dave does strategic advisory consulting work for many end-users and vendors, and also writes for many of them. He’s based near Halifax, Nova Scotia, on Canada’s east coast.