Despite Repercussions, Companies Applaud Decision to Postpone FensterbauMarch 2nd, 2020 by Drew Vass, Executive Editor
Companies planning to attend and exhibit at Fensterbau Frontale were confronted with a harsh reality Friday, when show officials announced they were postponing the event due to the current outbreak of Coronavirus (COVID-19). The news came as a shock to some, while others said they were expecting the decision any time. Show officials said the choice was fueled by concerns among industry representatives—a claim that’s since been backed by numerous statements provided to [DWM]. While the virus was expected to diminish the number of companies and visitors from China, Stefanie Haug, one of the show’s media contacts, says that wasn’t the biggest factor.
“With corona virus having reached Europe weeks ago, the number of expected exhibitors and visitors from China was not the decisive factor in our decision,” Haug told [DWM]. “Thirty-six companies from China were registered as exhibitors … and the proportion of Chinese visitors at the previous event in 2018 was only 1.9%,” she said. “We cannot say with certainty how many attendees would have come … in the end. However, the trade fairs we have held at our exhibition venue here in Nürnberg since the spread of corona virus showed a decline in visitor numbers.”
Regarding the postponement, “We are of course disappointed, but acknowledge it is the responsible decision,” said Steve Dillon, marketing director for Veka, adding that his company was at least relieved it wasn’t an outright cancellation. “So hopefully we will get to gather with the rest of the industry later this year,” he said.
The show was set to take place March 18-21, in Nuremberg, Germany. It’s since been shifted to an undetermined date, with officials still clinging to 2020.
Others say they weren’t waiting for an official decision before backing out. Just minutes ahead of notice from show management, Mike Pauly, vice president of sales and operations for Ventana, informed [DWM] of his company’s decision to stop packing. “We have decided to not attend this year’s Fensterbau, due to the Coronavirus,” Pauly said. Three of the company’s major suppliers had already cancelled, he explained, and rumors regarding a potential cancellation or postponement shed doubt on the event. Jim Thornton, president of Centor North America, said his company decided to cancel following reports that Germany’s health minister said the country was facing an epidemic.
“The infection chains are partially no longer trackable, and that is a new thing,” Spahn told news reporters. “Large numbers of people have had contact with the patients, and that is a big change to the 16 patients we had until now where the chain could be traced back to the origin in China.”
The U.S. Embassy and Consulates in Germany reported February 26 that there had been 18 confirmed cases of COVID-19—with all patients confined to hospital isolation. Other affected countries with widespread or sustained community transmissions include China, Iran, Italy, Japan and South Korea, the Embassy reported, with three spread by person-to-person contact.
The cancellation and rescheduling of international trade shows is being done “out of an abundance of caution,” suggested the Embassy. Germany had yet to implement any travel restrictions by press time but had introduced the use of passenger locator cards for all individuals flying into Germany from China.
Ahead of the official announcement by show officials, some exhibitors clung to the idea of proceeding with the exhibition.
“I hope the show goes on,” said Tony Mehringer, vice president of sales and marketing for Stürtz, ahead of postponement.
Meanwhile, many sat in waiting for the announcement.
“We knew that show management was considering and making a decision today,” Dillon said immediately thereafter. Veka had around 10 customers joining the trip, he said, some of whom cancelled the week prior. “So, we were closely monitoring the situation,” he added.
With the decision made, attendees and exhibitors are forced to live with numerous consequences. In addition to being stuck with the uncertainties of an indefinite postponement and a location in which the red flag is up for an epidemic, but not yet for airline travel restrictions, companies are suspended from further planning while prohibited from recouping expenses.
Airlines are warning passengers on their websites about flights to and from certain countries and areas that may be delayed or cancelled. In some cases, flights to affected destinations can be rescheduled with waived fees, but by press time Germany wasn’t among those listed. A representative for United told [DWM] that the airline has a system of travel waivers for affected locations, suggesting that travelers wait to see if Germany is added prior to attempting to reschedule. In the meantime, any changes would be considered voluntary, incurring fees. But with show officials yet to release any new date for Fensterbau, rescheduling is currently impossible. Under the circumstances, the representative for United said there is no allowance for vouchers. In the meantime, should Germany make the list of restricted countries, “You may cancel your flight and apply any unused value of the ticket toward the purchase of a new ticket for a period of one year from the original issue date,” declared Delta.
Even with those and myriad other dilemmas, some exhibitors say they would rather see the show postponed, than to pay to ship their booths and products to Germany, only to be met by fewer attendees.
“It is a shame to have to postpone for all involved. We had some new products that we were looking forward to showing, but the health of all those involved is more important,” Pauly said. “With this being such an international show, it would be impossible to control the travel of visitors across so many borders and travel mediums,” he added. “The show would have been fairly under attended if it did take place and to spend such a large amount of time and resources to a diminished audience is also not ideal.”
Marco Patermann with Global Architectural Products and Services, a representative for Continental, concurs. “It is a very sound decision to postpone the exhibition,” Patermann said. “This will benefit the exhibitors as well as the visitors.”
At the same time, postponing the show to later in 2020 could clash with at least one other event, suggests Peter Nischwitz, head of corporate communications for Bystronic. “The impact to us, and all other exhibitors I suppose, is quite heavy,” Nischwitz said. “Due to the fact that glasstec [is] a major glass exhibition [and] will be held in the second half of the year, a possible postponement of Fensterbau, and China Glass, would be very challenging for all exhibitors.”
Aside from the show’s postponement, the virus has had minimal impacts to business, some companies report—including those with operations within affected nations. “Currently we have not seen any impact, except for the cancellation of the Fensterbau exhibition,” said Timothy Minne, president of Mecal USA, which has a factory in Frascarolo, Italy. But it has impacted those going to and from the country, he admitted. “I know that many of my colleagues in Italy have cancelled their short-term travel plans to avoid any possible quarantine situations that they could encounter. We are all taking a ‘wait and see’ approach with the virus.”
In the meantime, companies are hoping to continue with other shows and venues.
In the U.S., as of February 28, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 12 travel-related cases, including in Arizona, California, Illinois, Massachusetts, Washington and Wisconsin. Even with those cases, “The good news is that there is no impact in North America as of now,” Dillon suggested. In the meantime, he and other employees from Veka are headed to another show in Salt Lake City, Utah. “It is business as usual for us until conditions alter those plans,” he said.