SEMA Show Exec Hopeful, Confident for In-Person Event in Nov.

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June 1, 2020—Las Vegas casinos are set to re-open on Thursday, June 4. That news came as a welcome sight to Tom Gattuso, SEMA's vice president, events.

That leaves Gattuso more confident that SEMA, massive auto event that takes over the Las Vegas Convention Center each Fall, will go on as planned in 2020, even as the COVID-19 pandemic lingers.

"I was encouraged that [casinos were scheduled to open] June 4, and now May 23 or May 25," Gattuso told FenderBender recently. "They specifically chose to do it after Memorial Day weekend and that, to me, was an encouraging step, because they could go into it a little more gradually. I think I'm more encouraged that they're doing it a little more methodically. I think they're going to open up and see how things go, and be able to make some changes.

"And I think we're positioned on the calendar really well for them to ... really have the working plan that we're going to be able to incorporate into" SEMA, added Gattuso, who has helped plan automotive events for 25 years.

To be clear, Gattuso and SEMA organizers are proceeding as if SEMA will go on as scheduled during the first week of November. And they're giving no consideration to changing venues.

"We've been in Las Vegas for 43 shows," Gattuso noted. "And we're really tied to this partnership with the convention center. So, right now we're not considering any other cities."

The 2020 SEMA Show, he added, "is still on as scheduled, and it's predominantly because we really feel that, by having the event, we can help the industry recover more quickly. And we're looking at our position on the calendar, in the fourth quarter of 2020, and knowing that if we could build an environment where people could be productive, it'll make 2021 and the trajectory of which our business recovers quicker."

SEMA organizers are currently working with the city of Las Vegas, the state of Nevada, and other trade show groups to establish best practices that will ensure the safety of attendees at the automotive event, which drew about 162,000 attendees last year.

"We're looking at it from a perspective of what is the line at registration going to look like, what is the touchless hand-washing situation like in the convention center?" Gattuso said. "What's food service going to look like? And, we're looking at these things from a social density standpoint as well as just a facilities operations standpoint.

"We're confident it's going to be safe.

Gattuso said it's currently unclear if SEMA Show attendees, vendors, or workers would have to adhere to any PPE requirements. But it's worth noting that Las Vegas casinos won't force visitors to wear face masks when they re-open later this week.

Another noteworthy element of the 2020 SEMA Show planning? Exhibitors have been granted the opportunity to cancel their exhibit at the show, with a full refund of exhibit-space payments, until September 1 -- significantly later than usual.

"If we need to cancel the show -- and, you know, it really would be because the state of Nevada tells us that we can't host it -- we would be returning all the money," Gattuso explained.

"By the time ... the end of August comes, every [potential SEMA attendee] is going to be able to make a business decision, because we're going to have our safety plan well-documented,and they'll know exactly what to expect on-site. And, we're going to know exactly how many exhibitors are participating in the show. ... We'll be able to paint a pretty good picture on exactly what to expect."

As of his May 29 interview with FenderBender, Gattuso was encouraged by the industry's apparent support of having the show go on as scheduled for SEMA in 2020. He noted that the amount of exhibit space that SEMA organizers currently have book is only about 14 percent off last year's pace. SEMA organizers remain confident that the event should be able to carry on this November without too many hitches.
Of course, pandemics like the COVID-19 outbreak are tough to predict, and Gattuso knows a second wave of the virus could impact the U.S. in the months to come. So, he acknowledges, plans for the 2020 SEMA Show could change down the line.
"You know, we haven't said that we're going to go 100-percent virtual or anything like that," the SEMA executive said, "but we are working into the plans what can happen if there are restrictions that are going to change the makeup of what we've got planned. ... Then, if something happens like a second wave [of COVID-19], we're just going to need to adapt."

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