Are You Ready for the Return to Shows?

February 23, 2021

Aaron Bartelt

Aaron Bartelt is president of Exhibiteur and host of the Exhibiteur podcast. He has spent over a dozen years in the industry, leading the charge toward excellence in operations for exhibit producers large and small. His focus at exhibiteur is to support the industry through tactical and consulting services, including a white label services division.

Anticipation is palpable in our industry as we put the second month of the new year behind us. Everyone is speculating and chomping at the bit to get back to the show floor. The big question is, are you ready? 

What kind of question is that? Of course, you’re ready. There’s nothing you’ve ever been more ready for. Maybe a better question is, are you prepared?

Have you put strategies in place to handle challenges in cash flow, overhead and growth? What could be worse than finally getting back to business and having to turn down work because you lack the capabilities or capacity to deliver? Or taking on work you can’t handle - sacrificing values and company culture in the process? 

The good news is it’s not too late. With many forecasting a major return later in 2021, there is still ample time for you to focus on positioning yourself for success. 

Overhead Costs and Ramping Up

With a changed landscape, we need to acknowledge that stepping right back into where we were isn’t an option. Managing growth through smart staffing, operational and production strategies will be key to ensuring your organization survives and thrives in a post-COVID world.

(Re)Building a Team

Your people are your biggest asset in delivering the quality product your clients expect and building a company culture that makes you happy to work where you do. So (re)building your team deserves intentionality and careful consideration. 

Balancing that with a potentially fast and furious ramp-up in business will be a challenge that every organization should be ready for. Hiring the wrong people can be disastrous. But no one wants to turn down business after being sidelined for a year. Timing will be everything.

Partnering with a company that provides industry experts through a white label service is one strategy exhibit producers can employ to strike this balance. This can be a way to gain access to experienced trade show pros who act as members of your organization – giving you the expert operational help you need, as you need it, without the risk of jumping into an employee relationship too soon. 

This strategy can take you beyond the COVID return, providing a way to scale your business, without overtaxing the team you worked so hard to (re)build.  


Obviously, we all prefer face-to-face interaction, but don’t let networking fall by the wayside while events are on hold. One of the best things you can be doing right now is strengthening and building your professional network. LinkedIn is a great place to connect with other industry pros, meet new people, share information and strategies for navigating this new landscape together. 

Vendor Audit

Don’t let your vendors fall off the list of people to stay in touch with. Do you know what’s going on with your trusted partners? Do their capabilities now fit your future needs?  There is a good chance you will need to establish some new vendor relationships in the coming months. Don’t be surprised later with information you could find out now.  

Wholesale Exhibit Production

Changes in capabilities go hand in hand with changes in staff levels. Until you return to some semblance of normalcy, establishing relationships with wholesale exhibit providers is a strategy that can help you navigate this expensive portion of the exhibit creation process.

There are a number of options across the U.S. to choose from. It may take some trial and error to determine which one fits best with your business model, but once you have a trusted partner or partners, you have the opportunity to scale your business in a way that you would never be able to if you produced everything in house.

Focus on the Internal

If you haven’t been using the last year fine-tuning your operations, strengthening your vendor relationships and searching out the weak points in your internal workflow (organizationally and individually), you’ve been missing out on a huge opportunity.

Personal/professional development reading and listening to podcasts can be a great way to make little changes that can make a big difference in your day-to-day life.

In Good Times and Bad

Of course, these are all good things to consider during regular times, too. But right now, employing smart strategies to overcome unique challenges will decide who survives and thrives in our industry in the years to come.  


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Partner Voices
Less than six months ago, Lisa Messina joined the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA) as the first-ever chief sales officer after leading the sales team at Caesars Entertainment. A 12-year Las Vegas resident, Messina is a graduate of Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration and serves on MPI International’s board of directors. TSNN had a chance to catch up with this dynamic leader and talk to her about her vision for the new role, current shifts in the trade show industry, creating more diversity and equity within the organization, and advice to future female leaders. Lisa Messina, Chief Sales Officer, LVCVA With Las Vegas becoming The Greatest Arena on EarthTM, what are some of the things you’re most excited about in your role? Our team was at The Big Game’s handoff ceremony earlier this month, and I couldn’t help but think, “We’re going to crush it next year!”  These high-profile events and venues not only drive excitement, but also provide unmatched opportunities for event planners. Allegiant Stadium hosts events from 10 to 65,000 people and offers on-field experiences. Formula 1 Grand Prix will take place in Las Vegas in November, after the year-one F1 race, the four-story paddock building will be available for buyouts and will also offer daily ride-along experiences that will be available for groups. And, of course, the MSG Sphere officially announced that it will open in September, ahead of schedule, with a U2 residency. It’s going to be the most technologically advanced venue as far as lighting, sound, feel, and even scent, and it will be available for buyouts and next-level sponsorships inside and outside. There’s no ceiling to what you can do when you’re doing events in Las Vegas.  Allegiant Stadium As the trade show and convention business returns to the pre-pandemic levels, what shifts are you noticing and how do you think they will impact the industry going forward? Our trade show organizers are very focused on driving customer experience. Most of our organizers are reporting stronger exhibitor numbers and increased numbers of new exhibitors, with trade shows proving to be almost or above 2019 levels. Now our organizers are really doubling down on driving attendance and focusing on the data to provide that individualized, customized experience to help attendees meet their goals and get the best value. Some companies continue to be cautiously optimistic with their organizational spend when it comes to sending attendees, but I think it will continue to improve. As the U.S. Travel Association makes more progress on the U.S. visa situation, we also expect a growing influx of international attendees. What are some innovative ways the LVCVA helps trade show and convention organizers deliver the most value for their events? We focus on customer experience in the same way that trade show organizers are thinking about it. We got rave reviews with the West Hall Expansion of the Las Vegas Convention Center (LVCC), so over the next two years, we will be renovating the North and the Central halls, which will include not just the same look and feel, but also the digital experiences that can be leveraged for branding and sponsorship opportunities.  Vegas Loop, the underground transportation system designed by The Boring Company, is also a way we have enhanced the customer experience. Vegas Loop at the LVCC has transported more than 900,000 convention attendees across the campus since its 2021 launch. Last summer, Resorts World and The Boring Company opened the first resort stop at the Resorts World Las Vegas , with plans to expand throughout the resort corridor, including downtown Las Vegas, Allegiant Stadium and Harry Reid International Airport. The LVCVA also purchased the Las Vegas Monorail in 2020, the 3.9-mile-long elevated transportation system that connects eight resorts directly to the convention center campus. This is the only rail system in the world that integrates fares directly into show badges and registration. For trade show organizers, these transportation options mean saving time, money and effort when it comes to moving groups from the hotels to LVCC and around the city. Also, the more we can focus on building the infrastructure around the convention center, the more it supports the customer experience and ultimately supports our trade show organizers. Scheduled to debut in Q4, Fontainebleau Las Vegas will offer 3,700 hotel rooms and 550,000 square feet of meeting and convention space next to LVCC.  What are some of the plans for advancing DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) within your organization? We’re currently partnering with instead of working with a leading consulting firm, to lay the foundation and create a solid DEI plan and be the leader when it comes to DEI initiatives. The heart of that journey with the consulting firm is also talking to our customers about their strategic approaches to DEI and driving innovation in this space.  What are your favorite ways to recharge? My husband and I have an RV and we’re outdoorsy people. So, while we have over 150,000 world-class hotel rooms and renowned restaurants right outside our doorstep, one of my favorite things to do is get out to Red Rock Canyon, the Valley of Fire, and Lake Mead. Five of the top national parks are within a three-hour drive from Las Vegas, so there’s a lot you can do. We love balancing the energy of Las Vegas with nature, and we’re noticing that a lot of attendees add activities off the Strip when they come here.  Valley of Fire What advice would you give to women following leadership paths in destination marketing? I think it’s about being laser-focused on what you want to accomplish; building a team around you that lifts you and helps you achieve your goals; and being humble and realizing that you do it as a group. No one gets this done alone. Thankfully, there are a lot of women in leadership in this organization, in our customers’ organizations, and in this city that we can be really proud of. We’re a formidable force that is making things happen.   This interview has been edited and condensed. This article is exclusively sponsored by the Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority. For more information, visit HERE.