Alongside the aviation industry, events industry has become one of industries hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the first nine months of 2020, the events industry lost an estimated $15bn of revenue. Continued restrictions on travel and social distancing measures to slow the spread of the virus have meant the cancellation of some of the world’s biggest airshows, including Farnborough International Airshow 2020. But the pandemic has also led to the creation of new digital brands such as FIA Connect, an online platform which took place during the same week as in person airshow.

With much of Europe now entering the second wave of COVID-19 and further restrictions on conferences and face-to-face meetings likely to remain for the next few months, large scale, people- to-people events have been put on hold while the medical sector works to produce and distribute an effective vaccine.

But event brands have shown a determination to look to the future and beyond the confines of the current pandemic and keep up the conversation online. Watch our special report to find out how some of the biggest names in aviation events are adapting to these challenging business conditions, the areas which are still open for business and what’s in store next year from some of aviation’s biggest brands.

China and Dubai: open for business

Douglas Emslie, CEO of The Targus Group runs 180 events in 19 different countries, with aerospace one of its biggest sectors.

He said: “China is operational, it’s been operational since July. We’ve personally run seven shows in the last seven weeks. And the big Exhibition Center in Shanghai, they’ve had 1.3 million visitors through their exhibition hall in that period.

Lydia Janow, MD of Events and Tradeshows at Aviation Week, added that so far her events had been unaffected, with the first set to take place in March 2021, followed by Aeroengines in Dallas and MRO America is in Orlando. She said she was in talks with partners and venues but were looking to create smaller events.

“Glimmers of hope”

“The first half of next year might be a little bit more positive than maybe we had thought a month ago,” added Emslie who said culture of face-to-face business in the Middle East was helping to open up the market for physical events. “I think just small glimmers of hope in the big markets. For us, the Middle East, is our big market for the aerospace sector. And what we’re beginning to see which is a positive, is that Dubai is very much a regional market and we’re beginning to see the borders, open up and the principal one that actually is really positive is the Saudi border is opening up.”

Events will “evolve over time”

Gareth Rogers, CEO of Farnborough International, said that events would adapt and evolve along with the pandemic. He said events would evolve and open up “as time goes on, and people become more comfortable with things.” He added: “I think we’ve all done it within our workplaces that we’ve kind of started, right up there and we might start to drop over time as we understand what works and what doesn’t work, but you’re always going to try and be as protective as you possibly can to start with – those things will just evolve over time.

Janow said the events of 2021 would be restricted, not only by measures in force to stop the spread of the pandemic, but also by the travel policies of companies and through budgetary constraints of exhibitors.

Industry has suffered “double whammy”

“What they’re allowing is number one. Number two is you as you said previously, our industry has been hit, we have a double whammy. So a lot of the companies that we wanted to be there or have been there before, budgetary wise etc will not be joining us. We’ll be looking at perhaps a hybrid model. And third, I also think that travel restrictions, whether it be by person itself, the company, or again on whether or not they’re lifted by the different countries.

“So it’s a bunch of factors that we are going to take into consideration. And we’re going to work with them for the safety and well being of all our customers.”

But the role of the physical airshows is also to showcase new aircraft and new innovations to the industry and beyond.

Gilles Fournier, CEO of the Paris Airshow explained: “The Paris Airshow is a supply chain business show, so first of all, I would say the usual business that is done in such a show like Farborough or Paris will be the same, The difference is the future of aviation and the new aircraft that we have to build in the next 20 years.”

Virtual events will complement, not replace physical shows

Online events have also been used as a way of keeping in touch. Farnborough International rolled out FIA Connect during the week that Farnborough Airshow would have taken place. Gareth Rogers said the event had been successful with research following the event demonstrating that 8 out of 10 people felt the event had met its objectives.

“We had over 14,000 registrations, and one of the great things was that over 50 per cent of the people who attended from outside of the UK, it wasn’t just a UK event, it was a worldwide event, with over 250 speakers nearly 150 participant companies, it was from my perspective and from an international perspective, a real success.”

But Rogers said that virtual events would complement, and eventually move alongside face to face events and become part of the event cycles, rather than replacing physical events.

Hunger for in person events

Janow said that although some organisers and conference had elected to create virtual events, there was already an appetite to go back to face-to-face versions. “People are hungry, to get back to the other things, events and where possible that will happen, slowly, carefully,” she said. Although virtual events were considered as a useful “tool” by Fournier, he said, ultimately, shows were more about sensory aspects of seeing and feeling. He added recovery from the virus would be a slow waiting game.

“It is like a war, we are awaiting the end of the war, and we are waiting that the research so that the medicine will find a solution to this to this virus crisis.”

He added: “It’s a question of, is it in three months or six months? Nobody knows for the moment.”

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