East Coast Hammered Again by Severe Weather

TSE STAFF
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Oceanside CA – Severe snowstorms continued to plague the Eastern seaboard this week, leading some show organizers to employ creative means to make sure the shows would go on.

Most major airports east of the Mississippi were virtually closed, as were some mass transit systems, while major highways throughout the East Coast were turned into ice rinks. Federal offices in Washington, DC were closed heading into the holiday weekend. Nearly 7,000 flights were cancelled on February 13 alone, major roads were closed in some areas, widespread power outages hampered response efforts, and cities like Philadelphia, where snow levels this year are four times the average, were beginning to run out of salt for the roads.

But trade show industry venues and organizers are accustomed to having contingency plans, and employed whatever actions they could to deal with travel delays and venue access, particularly for events set to begin this weekend.

General services contractor GES invoked some contingency plans early in the week in anticipation of the storm. Guy Richards, executive vice president of execution, planning and strategy, shipped all aisle carpeting scheduled to leave Atlanta for the entire week by Monday, February 10, ahead of the storm. In addition, for cities expected to be hardest hit, GES electronically moved files from its graphics hubs to equipment in the host cities “in order to bypass over-the-road or air transportation,” Richards said.

The Toy Industry Association’s American International Toy Fair was still set to kick off on Saturday, February 15 at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in New York City and prominently positioned that notice on its website. Vice President of Meetings & Events Marian Bossard said some exhibitors either came in early to avoid the storm, or were forced to change flights to arrive late, but that all show staff had already reported in as of Thursday when the storm hit. Service contractor Freeman also was able to “stay on target” with move-in, Bossard said.

The night before the storm arrived, Bossard’s staff sent a notice to all exhibitors advising that the Toy Fair had arranged for “relaxed” freight arrival times, allowing early arrival to help those who may have had travel delays or changes. As of February 13, Bossard said there had been no exhibitor cancellations. “We are grateful to have dodged a snowball,” she said.

The Toy Fair website also offered ticket transfers or refunds for their awards ceremony if the ticketholders were unable to get to New York City on Saturday.

In Atlanta, the Georgia World Congress Center (GWCC) became a large campground for staff and service contractors preparing for the city’s seventh largest convention — Cheersport, a gathering of 70,000 vivacious delegates for the national cheerleading competition. “We’ve had about 250 people in the building 24/7 since Tuesday (February 11),” said General Manager Mark Zimmerman. “Our concern was labor and letting contractors come in and set up so that we’re ready (for the event),” he said.

GWCC staff also stayed over, creating a sort of base camp for critical services so that staff members didn’t have to worry about commuting. Three hot meals a day were provided in the cafeteria at no charge to the campers. Cheersport officials notified their members earlier in the week that the show would go on. Zimmerman said that using social media and other communication with customers is crucial for these situations.

Other impacts were less visible, but illustrate the widespread effects of the storm. One week out from its NRB Convention & Exposition in Nashville, the National Religious Broadcasters’ offices were closed February 13 due to weather and there were no message updates on its website. The National Grocers Association’s annual convention wrapped up in Las Vegas on February 11, but their offices were still closed as of February 14.

Reach Guy Richards at (770) 372-5216 or grichards@ges.com; Marian Bossard at (646) 540-4853 or mbossard@toyassociation.org; Mark Zimmerman at (404) 223-4018 or mzimmerman@gwcc.com