In October 2019, the annual meeting of the Italian Society of Anaesthesia, Analgesia, Intensive Care, and Resuscitation (SIAARTI) drew 4,000 health-care workers to the La Nuvola Congress Center in Rome for a four-day program of education and networking. A year later, SIAARTI’s members were on the front lines, fighting surges of COVID-19 — so the conference came to them, setting up tents and outdoor screens at hospitals in eight Italian cities.
Halfway across the world in Santa Monica, California, the team behind the Progressive International Motorcycle Show (IMS) announced the cancellation of their indoor shows for 2020, which have traditionally taken place inside convention centers, and their plan to replace them in 2021 with outdoor shows. Here’s how the teams behind these major events reorganized them to travel safely to attendees.
Making House Calls
SIAARTI knew last summer that making its annual fall congress a virtual event was all but inevitable, since traveling to a central location wasn’t safe or possible during the pandemic. But organizers wrestled with the fact that their members “needed to feel closeness to their colleagues engaged in the ongoing health emergency,” said Gaia Santoro, project manager and head of the sponsorship unit at AIM Group International. “It was necessary to find a solution to facilitate discussion and involve all stakeholders despite the current limitations.”
Working with AIM Group International, SIAARTI took the “Travelling with ICARE” tour to its members. Over the course of three weeks, event staff traveled more than 1,000 miles in a SIAARTI-branded truck outfitted with a working TV studio, visiting major hospitals in eight Italian cities. Educational content — 48 hours of it — was broadcast onto outdoor screens at each stop, where SIAARTI also set up tents where participants could meet with experts, health managers, local administrators, and sponsors in socially distanced settings. The content collected during the tour was also broadcast as part of SIAARTI ICare 2020 virtual congress, which was held over three weekends in October.
Setting up the event in eight separate locations was demanding, Santoro said. “The logistics and positioning of the truck had to be coordinated in agreement with the hospitals and we also managed all staff transfers in compliance with safety requirements,” as well as managing the AV in each location, she said. In all, more than 800 people were involved in creating the tour, including doctors, speakers, and individuals at participating institutions, she added. Even with most activities held outdoors, strict safety protocols were put in place in each location — participants were required to wear masks and stay more than one meter (3.2 feet) apart at all times, and event staff administered regular temperature checks.
The extra work that went into the Travelling with ICARE tour paid off: SIAARTI had a 20 percent year-over-year increase in registration in 2020, and the video content that was created for the tour is still being accessed by participants months later. Santoro said she hopes that SIAARTI’s annual congress will meet in person this fall but sees the value in maintaining some of the opportunities that online streaming offered attendees and sponsors in the traveling format.
Heading to the Hills — and the Desert
The COVID-19 crisis forced IMS to scrap its planned indoor events for much of 2020 and early 2021, but the organization already had considered a move to outdoor exhibitions before the pandemic hit, because of the opportunities it would give participants to test-drive vehicles. “An outdoor show allows us to put attendees on more products,” Tracy Harris, SVP of IMS Outdoors, told Convene, “and in varying conditions that include desert tracks and rolling hills.” The organization had been talking for five years about making the move outdoors, she said. “We kept the conversation alive and, given the climate in 2020, it became clear the industry was ready to embrace a different solution.”
This year, the IMS Outdoors 2021 will kick off with a show in Loveland, Colorado, on June 18-20, with stops in eight cities and towns across the U.S. throughout the summer and fall. Venues have yet to be announced, but the event’s locations range in size from Lebanon, Tennessee — population 36,000 — to Brooklyn, New York. Along with new products, the Outdoors tour will feature entertainment by local musicians, booths featuring the work of local artists, and locally sourced food-and-beverage options.
Safety will be a primary consideration, with temperature checks, extra sanitation measures, and social distancing strictly enforced at each location, Harris said. “The distribution of the vaccine is underway and will be widespread throughout the U.S. by mid-year. Logistically speaking, this is a constantly evolving project, so we’re continually assessing new safety measures to adopt.”
It’s too soon to say whether IMS will continue to hold its exhibition outdoors after the pandemic has ended, Harris said, but she is bullish on the new format. “The outdoor-venue setting not only enhances the consumer experience but also positively changes the setup and display experience for exhibitors. We have been able to dramatically cut costs for exhibiting brands — this was very important to us as we developed the new format.”
Kate Mulcrone is a New York City–based freelance writer.