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SEMA Organizer: Show Must Go On

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Tom Gattuso, SEMA’s vice president, events, has kept a close eye on the COVID-19 outbreak since before it became part of the lexicon in much of America. 

“My wife flew to China and the Philippines in late January and early February,” Gattuso explains, “so we’ve kind of had a watch on it, and locked into this thing from the very beginning. And we’ve been very proactive in what we’re planning to do.”

What Gattuso is planning to do, currently, is carry off an event that drew 162,000 attendees last year without a hitch this November. Given the safety precautions that the COVID-19 outbreak requires, that might seem like a tall task. 

But, as of now, SEMA organizers seem determined to see their auto show go on in Las Vegas later this year. And the industry seems supportive.

“Our exhibit space right now is tracking really well” Gattuso told FenderBender in a May 29 interview. “The industry right now is showing really good support. The amount of exhibit space that we’ve currently booked is about 14 percent off the pace that we set last year at this time.” 

Below, Gattuso shares his experience preparing for what promises to be a memorable 2020 SEMA Show. 

So, the 2020 SEMA Show is still completely on as scheduled? 

“It is still on as scheduled, and it’s predominantly because we really feel that, by having the event, it can help the industry recover more quickly. ...    For us, it’s not about the revenue at all. Our role as a trade organization is to help our member companies succeed. So, the only thing that’s pushing us is helping the industry recover.” 

What practices will you put in place to ensure SEMA Show attendees’ safety? 

“It’s personal safety, entrance protocols, traffic flow, SOPs, that type of thing. We’re looking at it from the perspective of, what is the line at registration going to look like, what is the touchless hand-washing situation like in the convention center, what’s food service going to look like?

There’s an initiative called Go Live Together,that’s grown to over 2,500 events and partners in the industry that are trying to figure out what the best practices are going to be; we’ve got a seat at the table on the legislative element of that. … It's a constantly evolving plan.” 

What concerns have possible SEMA vendors expressed to you? 

“We have gotten feedback where they questioned, if the show were to be cancelled, what the ramifications for them would be. And we’re fortunate in that we’re going to be able to return all the monies that we’re paid, in the event that the show is cancelled. 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. 

We allowed our exhibitors the opportunity to be able to cancel their exhibit at the show, with a full refund of exhibit space payments, all the way up to September 1. By the time the end of August comes, everybody’s going to be able to make a business decision, because we’re going to have our safety plan well-documented.” 

Are there any concerns about the logistics of international travelers coming to SEMA this year? 

“We anticipate that international travel will be down slightly on a global level well into 2021 as the various economies begin their path to recovery. We are working closely with our partners in Las Vegas on new international flights and travel safety protocols and will communicate [to] our international attendees as appropriate.”

Do you have a contingency plan in place if the COVID-19 outbreak worsens in the Fall? 

“Definitely. You know, we haven’t said that we’re going to go 100-percent virtual or anything like that, but we are working in to 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 it. 

We’re going to look to what the local requirements and safety guidelines are in the city of Las Vegas and the state of Nevada. And we’re going to come up with exactly what our PPE requirements are going to be, exactly what our show density requirements are, and we’re going to present that plan to the industry and also the city and the state.”

If SEMA regulars are nervous about attending the show this year, what would you tell them? 

“It would be best [for those considering attending SEMA] to check in regularly with our updates on what we’re expecting the experience to be like. And, be confident that we’re going to create the most safe environment possible. 

We’re anticipating that not every single person that’s been at the show last year is going to come this year. But, we think we’re going to have a critical mass of really influential decision-makers and stakeholders that are going to be able to benefit by meeting and really help the industry on the road to recovery.”

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