So much has changed over the course of 2020 due to the global coronavirus pandemic. While we are spending more time with our immediate families, hanging out with friends and traveling for business and leisure have taken a nosedive.

With great need for precaution and social distancing, business conventions are having to rethink how they operate. That includes the cannabis industry. As a result of the need for precaution, many conventions and trade shows are going virtual.

This change, however, has significant ramifications for more than the cannabis industry alone. The hospitality industry (hotels, airlines, car rentals) as well as the arts and leisure industries, are all impacted by the halt in business convention travel.

Here are a few ways that virtual convention and trade shows are negatively impacting the industry:

  • Business Travel – Business travel is a big industry. Hotels, especially those with convention centers as part of their property, have seen a sharp decline in the number of bookings due to COVID-19.
  • Airline Travel – Airlines are hurting so much from the lack of paying customers that they have reached out to Congress with pleas to help bail them out – again.
  • Arts and Leisure – Many conventions also include an element of arts and leisure. Think tickets to a local theatre production or a day at the local golf course. Without conventions to support these industries, they are hurting – especially the arts, which tend to take place in enclosed spaces.
  • Zoom Fatigue – In the beginning of the global pandemic, virtual meetings were something of a novelty. We arranged for hangouts with friends from college, had virtual parent/teacher conferences, and weekly staff meetings. However, 7 months later, many people are simply tired of staring at a screen all of the time. There is a risk that convention goers will avoid a virtual conference simply because they are tired of online meetings.
  • Distractions – When attending conferences online, often life can easily intervene. Online meetings compete with kids needing help with their online learning and emails can easily be accessed while “listening” to the conference. There is so much going on in our world and our country right now that people are easily distracted.

All of this being said, there are some advantages to virtual conferences and trade shows:

  • Lower Costs – Without having to pay for the travel and accommodations for some conference experts, renting rooms, and organizing catering, the costs of running a virtual conference can be more attractive – especially in a year when most businesses have seen a hit to their bottom line.
  • Increased attendance – Given that some would-be attendees aren’t able to travel to conferences for financial or personal reasons, holding an online conference may increase attendance. 
  • Technology – The good news is that even with the challenges of needing social distance, the jump from in-person to online conferences was a relatively easy one to make due to advances in technology. Webinars, breakout sessions, virtual exhibitions, and interactive experiences can all continue to happen.

When life gets back to some sense of “normalcy”, where we can once again gather in person, it is unlikely that conferences and trade shows will just go back to business as usual. Having learned much about the benefits and drawbacks of virtual gatherings will likely result in conference organizers creating events that are more hybrid in nature – a mixture of online webinars and in-person events. So, while we were thrown into the deep end of the pool in March 2020, hopefully the lessons learned and gained will continue to help us grow well into the future.