“The Big Show will go on,” said National Retail Federation President Matt Shay on Monday.
And on Friday, even as more speakers and attendees pull out of the conference, that remains the trade group’s plan.
The National Retail Federation will kick off its annual gathering in New York City this weekend. It’s one of a slew of annual conferences and trade shows that kick off a new year each January. But with omicron pushing Covid cases to new heights, conference planning has become complex and prompted industries to make tough calls.
The J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference — which draws medical professionals, major pharmaceutical companies and health-care start-ups — decided to hold its annual event virtually this week. CES 2022, a trade show organized by the Consumer Technology Association, went ahead with its event the prior week, albeit with smaller crowds. And the movie industry announced it will press ahead with plans to throw the Berlin International Film Festival in person in February, while the Sundance Film Festival, planned for later this month, has gone virtual.
The decisions, in some cases, are symbolic and reflect the businesses’ challenges as companies try to nudge consumers toward more normalcy. Grocers and drugstores have kept their doors open and stores staffed during previous waves of the pandemic. Movie theaters are trying to woo back audiences, as some people have become skittish about sitting next to strangers.
“As we move beyond the pandemic to endemic, this year’s convention is a step forward in this new environment,” NRF said in a statement on Friday. “Undoubtedly it will be a bit messy, but it is a step forward.”
There will be fewer opportunities for people to take off their masks, drink and socialize like conferences in the past. The NRF recently decided to postpone two of its major events — an awards gala and more intimate dinner hosted by the NRF’s Foundation — until mid-April. The foundation sent personal notes to CEOs and awards recipients on Jan. 6, announcing the change. It also indefinitely postponed a student program that coincides with the Big Show and typically attracts about 800 college-aged attendees for education and networking.
NRF has announced stepped-up safety measures. Along with requiring masks and proof of vaccination, it plans to hand out N95 masks and at-home Covid test kits.
Similarly, the Berlin film festival said its event would have tighter restrictions and no parties.