“We at INDA have been lobbying through different channels to get this lifted for months,” says INDA president Dave Rousse. “A lot of pain has been felt by trade associations who rely on events for income.”
INDA, based in Cary, NC serves the North American nonwovens industry. After hosting several of its events virtually since March 2020, the association was able to return to an in-person format in July 2021 with the annual World of Wipes (WOW) conference in Atlanta, GA. While the event was considered a success with the highest in-person attendance the conference has seen in six years, it attracted few international visitors.
Rousse says he expects the November timeframe will likely help boost international attendance at its next in-person conference, the Hygienix Absorbent Products conference, which will be held in Scottsdale, AZ in mid November as well as its marquee event, IDEA 22, North America’s largest trade exposition dedicated to nonwovens and engineered fabrics, which is held every three years in Miami, FL with next edition set for March 2022.
The Industrial Fabrics Association International (IFAI) does not consider the timing of the announcement quite so fortuitous. “We are delighted but it comes a little late for us,” says Steve Schiffman, president of CEO. “And, we are wondering what exactly the Biden Administration means by early November.”
The IFAI’s main event IFAI Expo is scheduled fir the first week of November in Nashville, TN.
“The travel ban’s impact will be two-fold,” Schiffman adds. “About 15% of our attendees tend to come from the U.S., and about 8% of our exhibitor revenue comes from China—and that has evaporated. It’s a big number and I understand all the reason why the ban has been in place but it comes at a cost.”
The next step in lifting the travel ban will be the Center for Disease Control’s determination over which vaccines are considered acceptable for open travel to the U.S. This could continue to limit visitation from certain countries. Additionally, Asian visitors are expected to be continue impacted by challenges with getting travel visas due to staffing shortages in state department offices.
Since Covid-19-related travel bans began cancelling trade shows and conferences in March 2020, the trade show industry quickly pivoted to virtual events and this format continues to exist. For INDA, it will hold its RISE conference virtually next week. Its European counterpart is planning to hold its Circular Nonwovens Forum (CNF), scheduled for late September, and its INDEX Trade Exposition in October in a hybrid format in an effort to influence global attendance.
Rousse says he expects virtual and hybrid events to continue into 2022 as travel bans lift and attendees comfort levels with travel return to normal.
“Hybrid events will be here for a while because there are some speakers, presenters who won’t want to travel,” he says. “We expect some restrictions to extend into the early part of 2022. It seems the larger the company the more conservative they are.”
However, the opportunities for in-person networking cannot be replicated by virtual events.
“We think hybrid events will have a place,” Schiffman says. “We just don’t know how much of a place. There is a hunger for people to get back to face to face but ultimately at the end of the day it’s how many leads can be converted. If we can keep that number strong, we will be successful.”
According to Ricardo Fisalo, regional managing director, U.S. and Canada at Fitesa, in-person networking is crucial to the nonwovens business because it is a relationship type business, not a price lead business. “The success of this business can be credited to the way we do business. We form relationships, we communicate. WE need to develop not only relationships but physical presence in these markets is very important.
Fisalo adds that trade show and conference attendance is not the only piece of business being impacted by travel bans. Companies with global manufacturing footprints have face challenges transferring their technologies and transporting workers between sites.
“For us, we are present in many countries but we don’t do the same thing or have the same people everywhere,” he says. “The travel ban has meant facing a lot of hurdles because we rely on certain technologies and expertise from different sites. It has also been impossible for our people to travel between sites to share knowledge.”