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With COVID-19 Back on the Rise, SMM Goes All-Digital for 2021

smm hmc conference hamburg
File image courtesy HMC

By The Maritime Executive 11-04-2020 09:16:02

Amidst a resurgence of COVID-19 cases in Germany, trade show organizer Hamburg Messe und Congress (HMC) has announced the cancellation of the in-person portion of its biannual SMM conference - one of the industry's top international gatherings. Instead, the program will be held fully online. 

“After close consultations with the exhibition committee and government institutions, we have decided to host SMM 2021 as a purely digital event. The progress of the coronavirus pandemic and the resulting restrictions have rendered it impossible to come up with a reliable plan for a physical trade fair," said Bernd Aufderheide, the president and CEO of HMC. 

The revised program centers on an online "Maritime Business Hub," a platform for exhibitors to meet with potential customers. The hub will remain online and open until the next SMM in 2022. "This means our exhibitors and partners can present themselves continuously until the next physical gathering, and intensify their business networks by utilizing our large database," said Claus Ulrich Selbach, the business unit director for maritime at HMC. 

SMM was originally scheduled for September 8-11, 2020, but it was postponed until February 2021 and modified into a "hybrid" event due to the travel disruption caused by the pandemic. The plan called for a combination of on-site exhibitors and visitors as well as a set of online programs for those who  could not attend in person. In order to ensure safety, the on-site component would have incorporated a maximum daily limit for hall occupancy, wider aisles in the halls, plexiglass windows at the stands, participant tracking within the show and provisions for contact tracing in the event of an infection. 

At the time, HMC said that it expected that business travel would be permitted again by early 2021; however, in recent weeks COVID-19 cases have been on the rise in northern Europe, and Germany has been posting record-breaking daily case counts since the end of October. On Monday, the German government instituted a new partial shutdown for restaurants, bars and clubs, resuming some of the restrictions it instituted earlier this year in an attempt to curb the virus' spread. 

“The pandemic has demonstrated that so much can be achieved through digital means and that the maritime industry is more than capable of adapting to new ways of working. During these very challenging times, more than ever before safety must be at the forefront," said Knut Ørbeck-Nilssen, the CEO of DNV GL Maritime, in a statement of support for HMC's decision. "I am therefore pleased that SMM has shown the foresight and sound judgment to move next year’s SMM onto a digital platform."