Update on how the Delta surge is impacting events and event photography.

March, 2020.  I was standing at the baggage carousel at BWI Airport, waiting for my luggage to drop from my Birmingham flight.  I’d just finished the Bassmaster Classic, a green screen experiential photo marketing event we do every year.  I glanced up at the CNN news loop on the flat screen above, and thought, “Wow, that’s a huge typo.”

CNN showed the Dow Jones Industrial Average as a 3,000 point drop.  I pulled out my iPhone, and glanced at the stock ticker.

It wasn’t a typo.  Wall Street had plummeted.  Then my phone connected to the airport internet, and all those event cancellations exploded my Gmail.

It was March, 2020.  I had no idea it would be May 2021 before I’d shoot another event.  Of course, what was supposed to be nothing more than a head cold — maybe the flu — really nothing at all –six weeks to stop the spread —  would annihilate business for the next 18 months.

Here we are in late September of 2021, and yesterday I received word that an event scheduled for this December was cancelled.  Last week, the National Association of Broadcasters cancelled their in-person Las Vegas event scheduled for next month.  The week before, a “return to the office” gala — scheduled for this week in Atlanta — was scrubbed.  No return to the office.  At least not yet.

But events are being scheduled, and many — well, maybe not many — but some — are being held.  Last week’s Dallas  Travel and Adventure Show was a success.  Despite DELTA surging in Texas, show management decided to proceed (with mandatory mask guidelines in place for both exhibitors and attendees.)  Attendance was off record highs, but didn’t tank.  That’s a win.  As a result, the Travel and Adventure Show decided to proceed with next month’s show in Atlanta — and in San Jose, CA.

Our phones are starting to ring with requests for event proposals.  Right before DELTA struck in force, calls were pouring in.  However, every one of those events booked were cancelled later because of the runaway pandemic.  Now, just in the last few days, our phone is starting to ring again.  And, Google search numbers (which I look at daily) are rising.  That means more people are searching for the keywords that we target — keywords like “Atlanta greenscreen photo booths“.

Everyday I wake up and check new infection numbers on the New York Times website.  Then, I check the Mayo Clinic, for their latest vaccination numbers.  After that, I scroll through CNN, looking primarily for news on COVID.  Followed by the News Application on my iPad.  For those of you who don’t live and die by the pandemic data, here’s the gist of it.  The latest surge has crested and new infection rates are falling.  In addition, about 10% more of the eligible population is vaccinated now, than when DELTA struck.

And there’s more good news.  This morning the CDC authorized booster shots — not just for older and immunocompromised Americans, but for those at “high risk of infection” from their job.  Why, that’s me!  And, yes, I’ve already received my third shot.  So has Matthew.  Second, estimates are that vaccines will be authorized for kids five and older in the next six weeks.  And third, today I read that oral antiviral treatments will become available, perhaps by year’s end, for those who do become infected.  Currently, antivirals can only be administered intravenously.  An oral antiviral means readily accessible therapies for those infected with COVID right from their neighborhood pharmacy.

With all these trends in mind, we are preparing for the event space to sputter up, then crank up, and then run full tilt.  For at least the next two months scheduled events will remain flat.  Fourth quarter is typically the slowest for corporate events during a normal year — so to expect a surge during this year’s fourth quarter is ludicrous.  However, beginning in February 2022, we expect events to return to normal — and by summer of next year, we expect record breaking bookings.

While the stuttering return continues, we’ve implemented a couple of new services to reduce the risk of infection during our photo events.  First, is the QR Photo Retrieval System.  Instead of using our traditional iPad platform for participants to email  and or/text message their photo, they receive a QR card.  After scanning the QR code, they enter their name and their photos automatically populate.  They save the image to their own device.  The QR system permits us to eliminate the touchpoints on the iPads — and it is integrated into a show’s registration platform.  By scanning a participant’s barcode from their show ticket at the beginning of the photo experience, we can use the name from their registration to tag the photo.  Second, we’ve temporarily eliminated in-person physical props for our photo booths.  instead, we develop “digital props” for each photo event, and the participant selects what prop they’d like to use from a poster.  Both the QR Photo Retrieval System and the use of digital props will remain in our arsenal after COVID passes — and may be good fits for certain events, whether the pandemic is an issue or not.

These have been uncertain days in the event space.  First COVID, then DELTA, and the continuing fear of another variant.  But evidence is mounting that vaccines can be tweaked to address even the most virulent variant.  And that, along with strides in therapies, booster shots, and vaccines for younger Americans, has me feeling the most optimistic I’ve felt since glancing at CNN, in March 2020, while standing at the luggage carousel after the Bassmaster Classic and wondering why the stock market fell 3,000 points.  A year and three quarters later, and I think we have almost reached the end of that long, dark COVID winter.