It’s early in the month of April, but already the thoughts of many in the fishing and fly fishing industries are wondering whether the COVID-19 pandemic will impact annual trade shows.
At the moment, the answers are mixed, with one group saying not yet, while another has already pulled the plug months in advance.
For the conventional tackle fishing industry, the annual ICAST trade show is still scheduled this summer in Orlando. That news came late last week by way of an April 2, 2020 e-mail from the show’s host, the American Sportfishing Association.
Meanwhile, officials with the American Fly Fishing Trade Association have already seen enough from the crisis, pulling the plug on the group’s 2020 International Fly Tackle Dealer show previously scheduled Oct. 7-9 in Denver.
While the current coronavirus crisis has already forced the cancellation of events like the National Rifle Association Annual Meeting, the Pope and Young Club Convention, and the inaugural Ducks Unlimited Expo, ICAST officials are hopeful that their trade show can go on during a year that has seen boat ramps closed, fishing tournaments canceled, and even recreational fishing closed entirely in at least one state.
"As of today, we are still planning on hosting ICAST from July 14-17, in Orlando, Fla.," stated a website Q&A response to which the ASA’s e-mail directed readers.
"We understand that everyone is struggling to balance the health of their employees and families with the demands of running a business during a pandemic that is devastating our economy. "As conditions evolve, we are monitoring the situation every day and working closely with the Orange County Convention Center, Freeman and all our show vendors."
The ASA response did note that things are fluid and subject to change. "Decisions made the beginning of April may not be the same decisions that would be made in early May," noted the organization’s website response. "We ask for your patience as we strive to make the best business decisions we can on behalf of our exhibitors, members, staff and all our show attendees."
"When – or if – the situation changes, we will let everyone know immediately," noted the ASA’s website response. "We want to be clear – your health and safety and those of everyone in our recreational fishing family are first and foremost in our decision-making process."
While the International Fly Tackle Dealer show postponement news wasn’t entirely unexpected, how early the decision came about was a little surprising to some observers.
One year after separating from the ICAST event in Orlando, where the two shows had co-existed for several years, the IFTD show had enjoyed a record-setting event last fall in Denver and seemed poised for more of the same in 2020. But that was before the COVID-19 virus outbreak and the unprecedented shutdown and huge economic woes being caused by a microbe approximately 0.125 microns in diameter.
The virus might be tiny enough, but the effects it is causing are enormous for the fly fishing industry that depends heavily on spring and summer travel, guided trips and fly shop visits.
"Yesterday the AFFTA Board of Directors voted unanimously to postpone this year’s IFTD show,” said the organization’s CEO and president Ben Bulis in an April 7, 2020 letter. "Comprised of guides, outfitters, manufacturers and retailers, the Board reflects a cross-section of the industry and are all experiencing a tremendous financial loss, just like all of you. In light of the completely unpredictable path of the COVID-19 virus and length of our industry’s—and nation’s—social and economic recovery, we have elected to take decisive action, protect our people and their businesses and continue to find ways to weather these times together.
"Make no mistake, this was an exceedingly difficult decision for the AFFTA Board. We are in completely uncharted waters, but we promise to be as diligent and responsive as possible in leading our industry through these tough times."
According to Bulis’ letter, sent to "family members," several factors played into the early cancellation of the 2020 IFTD show, including the safety of industry members, the unknown length of time that preventative measures will be in place, and the uncertain financial picture for the industry both now and in the future. Bulis also noted that attendee expenditures for travel to the 2020 show also factored into the AFFTA’s early decision. "With the economic loss you’re facing, we don’t want members to incur the cost of travel and lodging and time away from businesses to attend IFTD,” his letter noted.
Bulis also indicated AFFTA is working on exhibitor deposits (already in hand for the 2020 show), as well as working with vendors, hotels and the convention center in Denver. Other solutions being sought include developing resources useful for fly-fishing businesses during the coronavirus outbreak, ways to keep communication lines open and current, and ideas to somehow bring the industry together by way of "alternative channels."
As AFFTA works on such issues and solutions, Bulis promised the fly-fishing industry that it would hear from the organization in coming days. He also noted that the organization has put together a website resource page with up-to-date information concerning federal, state, and local relief efforts for fly fishing guides and businesses being affected by the virus outbreak.
"Things are changing on a daily basis," noted Bulis, who asked for members of the fly fishing industry to stay safe, stay positive, and to take care of themselves and their families during this pandemic. …
"I wish you well and hope to see each of you very soon on the river or enjoying a dinner together," he said.