SARS Bans at Trade Shows - Will They Spread?

April 9, 2003

SARS Bans at Trade Shows – Will They Spread?

OroArezzo, opening April 12 in Arezzo, Italy, announced April 10 it canceled its delegations of attendees from China, Hong Kong, Singapore and Vietnam, over fears of the spread of the SARS virus, the show said at its Web site. The news caused some industry observers to wonder about fate of big delegations of exhibitors, mostly from Hong Kong, who exhibit at The JCK Show - Las Vegas (May 30-June 3) and JA New York Show (July 27-30). OroArezzo's ban comes on the heels of last week's Swiss ban on Basel World exhibitors and booth workers from China, Hong Kong, Singapore and Vietnam.

Even if exhibitors are able to appear at U.S. shows, some wonder whether skittish American buyers will avoid the booths of Hong Kong and other Asian exhibitors if the SARS virus is still spreading. "We certainly don't want attendees to stay away from our Hong Kong exhibits," says Drew Lawsky, show director, JA New York Shows. Though a small percentage of people worldwide contracted the new disease (the latest reports say SARS killed 110 with more than 3,000 infected), it has elicited bans and quarantines in affected countries. Medical experts say it is still easy to misdiagnose.

Lawsky says JA management is monitoring the situation carefully, keeping communication with the Javits Center in New York City, where the JA Show is held, to see if it has received any directives or warnings about the disease. He also plans to communicate with government health officials as the show draws nearer. His main goal is to give his 150 Hong Kong exhibitors plenty of notice if there are directives they must follow before being allowed into the U.S. or the show. In Switzerland, government officials announced the Swiss ban only a day before the show opening, when most Hong Kong exhibitors were already in the country. "Our Hong Kong exhibitors are a very important and loyal group to the JA Show and we will be proactive in giving them a lot of advance notice," said Lawsky.

JCK Show Director David Bonaparte did not return calls, but the show's 2002 show guide indicates that last year, the Las Vegas event had more than 100 Hong Kong exhibitors and several booths from Singapore.

At a closing press conference for Basel World held April 10, René Kamm, CEO of MCH Swiss Exhibition Ltd., told attendees the Zurich site is in question for 2004. Nearly 800 non-branded exhibitors were scheduled to appear in Zurich for the first time this year (including almost 400 from the banned countries). Business was very slow for the 400 remaining exhibitors, he said.

"We will be reviewing the new Zurich location and discussing with exhibitors whether they would be prepared to continue exhibiting in Zurich," said Kamm. His remarks reflected a widespread belief it was Zurich's local government which precipitated what many thought was an overreaction to the SARS virus scare. Zurich attempted to get the Basel management to shut down the Zurich exhibition center just a few days before the show opened and Basel then received the federal Swiss ban one day later. "It presents a very wrong image of Zurich," said Frederick Lam, deputy executive director of the Hong Kong Trade Development Council.

by Peggy Jo Donahue

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