Get access to everything we publish when you sign up for Outside+.
Grassroots Outdoor Alliance, the retail association currently preparing for its first in-person trade show in more than 600 days, will require attendees of its upcoming Connect event to provide proof of Covid vaccination, according to show leaders.
“No exceptions,” Grassroots executive director Rich Hill told Outside Business Journal. “This was one of the easiest decisions I’ve ever had to bring to our board. I feel a personal responsibility for people who come to our event.”
The show, scheduled for November 8-11 in Kansas City, Mo., has roughy 1,300 attendees registered, with more interest coming in on a regular basis, Hill said. Although Grassroots leadership hasn’t yet decided how vaccination proof will be collected from attendees, Hill said that through the month of September the team will be “gathering research” before coming to a decision about logistics. Vaccination “proof” might be as simple as signing an honor-system pledge, Hill said. Or it might be more intensive, involving authentication by a third-party service.
“It’s my opinion that when you treat people like adults, they tend to act like adults,” said Hill. “I’m leaning toward trusting everybody. I don’t see us as a community where people would try to cheat. But we’re researching it through the end of September.”
Blowback and support
Hill said that, so far, about 95 percent of show registrants—including retailers, brand exhibitors, and sales reps—have responded positively to the news. The other 5 percent have been vocal in their opposition.
“It has been mostly reps in that 5 percent, interestingly,” Hill said. “We had one instance where a rep at a certain agency refused to get vaccinated, and when one of their brands caught wind of it, the brand fired the agency on the spot.”
Overall, though, Hill believes the decision has increased interest in the show. “Many people saw it as us taking a leadership position,” he said. “I think it added to the potential attendance of the show.”
Other changes to show policy
The invitation-only trade show will also offer a new refund policy in light of Covid uncertainty, Hill confirmed. A full return of deposit funds will be granted for for any exhibitor that cancels its show registration on or before October 1.
“In the week prior to that deadline, Grassroots will provide registered attendees an overview of the show’s latest health and safety plans, and will host a Zoom open forum to answer vendor questions,” Grassroots said in a statement. “If Grassroots cancels the show after October 1, full refunds will be available.”
“We are fully aware that there’s still some legitimate reasons for travel anxiety out there, and we’re doing our best to address those realities head on,” Hill said. “We’ve built an extensive list of health and safety considerations around Connect—even our contingency plans have contingency plans—and I think it’s safe to say that many of those considerations are going to become best practices for gatherings in 2022 and beyond.”