The State of Convention Centers in 2020

Convention centers across the country this year have been heavily impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Local and state government efforts to promote social distancing and prevent the spread of the virus have led to the cancellation of many public events, including Austin’s South by Southwest festival and Cochella. The increasing number of COVID-19 cases in the past few weeks has left convention center leadership wondering when and how they can reopen safely. This uncertainty, however, has not stopped convention centers from finding ways to create value for their communities as they search for ways to reopen safely.


Many convention centers have been repurposed as medical facilities as hospitals struggle to find the space to properly care for patients. In March of this year, the Baltimore Convention Center was converted into a field hospital as a way to help overwhelmed local hospitals and served recovering COVID-19 patients still in need of medical care. In June, the city also utilized the venue as a walk-up testing location. In California, the San Diego Convention Center has served as a homeless shelter for more than 1,200 people as a way to prevent the spread of the virus, as well as providing 3,500 meals a day. The use of public venues as medical facilities is not the only way communities have supported COVID-19 relief initiatives. In Austin, Texas, community volunteers gathered at the Austin Convention Center this April to produce thousands of face shields for first responders, as well as sourcing and delivering food to those affected most by the pandemic. 


While convention centers have been focused on supporting their communities, many are facing the same challenges as other businesses, including budget cuts, staff layoffs, and dried up revenue streams. The pressure to reopen has led venue managers to experiment with new safety solutions. Venue management firm ASM Global launched their Venue Shield program this year to make reopening a possibility for their public venues, including convention centers. They claim to be exploring the use of “personal protective equipment (PPE), food safety measures, air quality control, surface cleaning, physical/ social distancing, temperature checks, thermal cameras, hand sanitizers, reduced touch points, contactless transactions, daily monitoring systems, and more” to improve safety conditions during live events. Similar initiatives are being taken by individual venues throughout the country. In addition to these changes, the Global Biorisk Advisory Council, a division of ISSA, has launched their GBAC STAR facility accreditation program to further create safer venues. Some of the largest convention centers, including Chicago’s McCormick Place and the Las Vegas Convention Center, have signed on to obtain this accreditation. 


The effectiveness of these safety programs has yet to be tested, but as we enter July with nationwide efforts to reduce the spread of COVID-19, convention centers must move quickly to ensure live events and conferences are handled safely and responsibly. Because of this, we at RaiEyes are devoted to supporting convention centers and other venues with our antimicrobial products and safety graphics solutions. Our flagship antimicrobial film, TouchPoint, is a simple, durable solution to reduce the spread of COVID-19 on high-touch surfaces, such as door handles, table tops, and buttons. Convention centers will also benefit from adopting our antimicrobial escalator handrail product, which can be included with social distancing graphics to promote safer rides and ensure peace of mind. 


The current state of the tourist and live event industry has left convention centers questioning when everything can go back to normal. However, we are certain that through careful planning, strategic adoption of safety solutions, and a willingness to innovate, convention centers can generate value for their communities without sacrificing quality service.

Alfredo Huitron

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