In the week when CES and UC Expo announced postponements, Mike Blackman. ISE’s MD arrived back from a fact-finding and promotional tour of Barcelona. As the UK government tightened restrictions on tourists travelling to Spain, Blackman was assessing the operational possibilities for the Show. He outlined his findings to AV News on a video call from his Munich home.
Mike Blackman: “I just got back last night doing some PR on their local TV – media interviews and meetings with government and various associations. Now we are getting everything up and running, it’s nice to be out travelling.”
Bryan Denyer: “I’m getting a variety of phone calls from people saying, what do you think about the Barcelona Show?”
Mike Blackman: “What I can tell you is that, from meeting and talking with the Spanish government, Spain takes the pandemic very seriously, and they react strongly about it because they don’t want to get the same sort of numbers they had at the very beginning. We’ve been working together with FIRA and the risk mitigation plan they have created.”
“The first draft was created by risk management consultancy, the University Hospital of Barcelona and FIRA. We went through the plan and asked’ OK, where does the risk lie and what can we do to reduce those risk?’ Person to person, and touching an object carrying the virus and getting infected as a result. So they’ve gone through that and said: ‘OK, based on these two forms of spreading the disease and the various the various permutations of that, how many opportunities are there to actually get infected?”
“By visiting an exhibition and looking at everything, you know, if you drive there, you touch a ticket from the ticket machine. You open the door, whatever. They looked at every single possibility and came up with about 400 permutations. Then they went back downwards and said: “OK, how do we mitigate those?” They categorize these methods of contagion into different sectors and then work out how they can mitigate those risk or completely take them out.”
How do we avoid risk completely at the Show: “We’re going to total digital registration, so that you register online – you do everything from home including printing your own badge out at home and bringing it with you. What that does is it reduces the interaction you have with quite a lot of people on your journey. That reduces the risk considerably. Then we are doing things like securing all the information points, putting up glass screens, reducing queues – and there’s a whole list of additional mitigation protocols that we put in.”
Bryan Denyer: “But what if a second wave takes infection rate to extreme levels?
Mike Blackman: “We will do everything we can to put measures in place to reduce the risks. But, given the absolute worst case we know what we need to do and, obviously, our plan is flexible. So if it gets worse, we can increase the precautions. And if it gets better, we can reduce them. For example, at the moment in Barcelona you have to wear a mask on the street. And if the Spanish government says that this is still the rule, then everyone will have to wear masks. If they relax the rules, mask might be optional. Look at social distancing – this might mean that some of the rooms, the conferences, et cetera, might have reduced capacity. You know, by leaving space between chairs, et cetera. And so that’s the maximum capacity on this conference and that will be accessible by registration only.”
Mike Blackman is confident that ISE will happen in Barcelona next year: “We feel reasonably confident in actually making sure that we can put on a safe and good exhibition.” But what about the venue – isn’t it a hospital? “Most of the hospital equipment has been cleared. What happened, and Excel had the same issue, it was hardly used. What happened was, as the cases increased in Spain, and they had these horrendous numbers of active cases, they said “We have a problem with the capacity of the hospitals to deal with demand. so. they needed to create extra capacity. They did that in Madrid and they did it in Barcelona. But they never had to use them. They didn’t get to the stage where the hospitals were overcapacity.”
Even if the venue itself is ready, what about the rest of Barcelona’s infrastructure?
Mike Blackman: “They’re putting things in place to actually try and mitigate circumstances and make it safer. And I think the authorities are acting very responsibly in that way. You know, they’re not saying it’s your choice. They are saying it’s compulsory. Think about it. A few years ago, we could smoke in restaurants.
Yeah. You don’t even think about it now. You know, it’s not allowed. Forty years ago, we were riding around on our motorbikes without crash helmets. Once, there were no seatbelts. They’ve become the norm now. So and we just accept it.. If things don’t improve to the extent that wearing mask becomes the norm to travel on public transport, I believe people will eventually accept it and say: “OK, I’m doing this for the good of everybody.”
“Eventually, people realize that life has to go on. And we have to adapt. And I believe that the sensible business people will actually start saying, “OK, how do we adapt? How do we work? And the current conditions? How do we make business continue? How do we make life continue?”
What about those unwilling to take the risk?
Mike Blackman: “We’ve learned from InfoComm this year. And, you know, there were a lot of really good things. There were some things which weren’t so good. Maybe the expectations were too high from the community. But we’ve learned from that. The InfoComm team shares all the information with us and we’re taking the best parts of that event.”
“We’re looking at what everybody else is doing and we’re looking and saying, let’s take the best possible virtual events and put them into place. So very clearly, our plan is that 2021 will be an in-person event. But as you say, there are people who are nervous. There are some people who don’t feel comfortable traveling but still want to participate. So we, like every other sensible organizer, are organising hybrid events. We’re offering elements of the in-person event online as well. Our goal now is just to work on everything to make the event as safe and enjoyable as possible.”