How Comfortable Are Water Professionals With Attending Live Events in 2021?

April 29, 2021

Survey results indicate comfortability with trade shows & live event attendance, based on a few factors.

About the author:

Bob Crossen is senior managing editor for Water & Wastes Digest. Crossen can be reached at [email protected].

Results of a three-week survey conducted by Water & Wastes Digest on its Weekly eNews show respondents are interested in returning to live events based on proximity and safety measures implemented at the event.

In early April, Water & Wastes Digest and its sister publications Water Quality Products and Storm Water Solutions initiated a survey to better understand their audiences’ attitudes towards work-related travel and attending live events. Water & Wastes Digest shared the link in three consecutive Weekly eNews emails on April 5, April 12 and April 19. The survey closed April 27 with 85 responses in total.

Due to the global coronavirus pandemic, live events throughout much of 2020 and even early 2021 were cancelled outright or converted to virtual events. This shift presented challenges for trade show organizers, whose profitability hinges on live event revenue, and manufacturers, who traditionally use these shows to drum up sales leads throughout the year.

In early 2021, WWD conducted a survey of its Weekly eNews audience about its attitudes toward receiving a COVID-19 vaccination. Results showed industry professionals were interested but cautious. That has not stopped many in the U.S. from receiving the vaccination, however. President Joe Biden set a goal that every U.S. adult would be vaccinated by May 1. As such, live event promoters and organizations that coordinate live events, trade shows and conferences have begun to wonder when it will be safe to host live events at scale again. Also, if a live event were to be held, the questions then becomes "How many people would realistically attend?" This survey sought to understand the attitudes of those attendees to better understand or answer those questions.

Are you comfortable with traveling for work-related events right now?

According to the results of the survey’s 85 respondents, a super-majority (75.3%) said they were comfortable with traveling right now. This question uses the term “now." While this term is not defined for the respondent, WWD can surmise what "now" would mean given the timeframe of the survey dates and requests for responses. Because the survey was shared weekly for three weeks until it was closed April 27, the term “now” could be any date between April 5, 2021 and April 27, 2021. 

WWD sees this response clearly indicates a large portion of individuals are comfortable with travel. This could be due to many factors (no concern of the virus, required safety measures, vaccination, etc.). The open-ended questions at the end of the survey highlight some of these items in more detail.

When will you feel most comfortable to begin traveling for in-person work-related events (i.e. sales calls, trade shows, conferences, etc.)?

While the first questions shows that people are quite comfortable with traveling for work-related events, this one highlights the nuance of when it would be most comfortable. Looking at this chart, we see that Q2 — April, May and June — had the greatest representation than any other responses. This suggests to WWD that there is an eagerness to travel to live events and other work-related travel in the immediate with a trickle of cautious returns throughout the rest of 2021.

Further review of this data also shows that when one combines all response options other than Q2 into one category, it only accounts for just barely more than half of the responses (50.5%). Meaning half of respondents are comfortable with traveling in the immediate future while the other half would prefer to wait until after June. Comparing that timeline with President Biden’s call for vaccinations by May 1, WWD can correlate that half of the respondents may be interested in traveling once vaccinations are widespread in the U.S. because the second dose of the vaccination must be taken 21 to 28 days after the first. The correlation here is circumstantial, but one WWD felt deserved to be noted.

How comfortable are you with traveling to the following events?

The next set of questions were part of a matrix to better understand people’s attitudes regarding a live event’s proximity to them and their willingness to travel based on that proximity. The survey created four categories for this: local trade shows and conferences, state trade shows and conferences, regional trade shows and conferences and national trade shows and conferences. Below we have broken them down individually so they can be compared to one another.

Local Trade Shows & Conferences

According to respondents, 56% said they are Comfortable or Very Comfortable with attending local trade shows. Meanwhile, 29% said they were wither Uncomfortable or Very Uncomfortable with with attending those same events. Only 14% said they were neutral on this matter. Overall, this shows a willingness to travel for events in close proximity to one’s own home, community and/or work environment. 

State Trade Shows & Conferences

In an interesting turn of events, the comfortability with State Trade Shows & Conferences flattened out the responses in all categories except Uncomfortable. Of those who responded 38.8% said they were Comfortable or Very Comfortable with traveling to state events whereas 30.5% said they were Uncomfortable or Very Uncomfortable. Comparing this to local events, we see a drastic decline in being Comfortable or Very Comfortable when traveling to state events while being Uncomfortable and Very Uncomfortable remained about the same. This puts more people into the neutral camp on state events, which likely means they would play attendance by ear based on how widespread vaccines and COVID-19 cases are in the state or in the specific city where the event would take place. This suggests to WWD that there is an added level of caution when considering attendance to state events.


Regional Trade Shows & Conferences

Responses related to regional event attendance are the most polarizing of the bunch. Responses indicating neutrality on regional events remained the same to those of state events, but there was an increase in responses marking Very Uncomfortable. Despite this increase, when we combine Comfortable and Very Uncomfortable, it results in 44.7%. This denotes an increase in comfortability with regional events than with state events. That said, the combination of Uncomfortable and Very Uncomfortable also increase to 36.4%.

This polarization could be related to how respondents define regional trade shows and conferences. Some may define regional as being those including a handful of cities in close proximity, while others would define them as people coming from multiple states in a given region. Because this was not clearly defined in the survey, it is difficult to surmise what these data points actually refer to, and as such the polarization in responses could be related to this uncertain definition.

National Trade Shows & Conferences

Response for attending national trade shows and conferences showed the greatest number of responses for the Very Uncomfortable option compared to all other events categories. Combining Very Uncomfortable and Uncomfortable, the data show 42% of respondents fall into these response options. Compare that to the Comfortable and Very Comfortable responses at 36.5%, state trade shows and conferences show respondents are also the least comfortable with this category. The slice of 36.5% for the combined Comfortable and Very Uncomfortable response options is the lowest percentage of all the trade show category questions.

Additionally, this question also had the highest number of respondents responding they were Neutral with 21.2%. So in a similar conclusion to state trade shows and conferences and regional trade shows and conferences, there is some caution being expressed when determining attendance to national trade shows and conferences.


What safety measures would you like in place if you were to travel to live events?

The final two questions of the survey were open ended questions to gather verbatim feedback from respondents on what safety measures they would like to see for live events and in their own words, what would make them most comfortable with returning to work travel. Below are some hand-selected responses that were most commonly provided to each of those questions. A link at the bottom of this article provides a dashboard that shows every single verbatim response should that be of interest to understand the attitudes and feelings more thoroughly.

Editor’s Note: All bullet points listed below are verbatim responses and have not been edited for grammar or style to maintain the integrity of the responses provided. Publishing these responses does not constitute WWD’s endorsement of the comments made by respondents.

The vast majority of responses indicated they would like safety measures in place, but a handful did not. In total 9 respondents out of 85 total specifically mentioned the word “none” or “no safety measures” in their response to this question. Below are some responses that could also be understood to fit into this category of little or no safety measures.

  • None
  • not sure
  • In the previous question you assume we are uncomfortable attending events. We are not uncomfortable at all 
  • I had my corona virus vaccines so not worried about it
  • I got vaccinated at work
  • Just go there.
  • Standard Identification

Below are some of the common recommended safety measures provided by respondents using verbatim language from select responses. As noted above, the vast majority of respondents fell into the category of some safety measures being required for live events.

  • Masks, social distancing, hand sanitizer available
  • Ensuring attendees are vaccinated (have their Covid card)
  • when we have herd immunity
  • COvid vaccinations, wearing os protective face mask, and attempting to maintain social distancing to the extent possible.
  • Take persons temperature when they enter trade show or conference
  • Personal Isolation/quarantine  and used of personnel protection devices.
  • Reduced capacity
  • There are not enough safety measures.
  • I need to talk about it later if I became a Candidate.
  • Outdoor events or ensuring good air movement within the venue.
  • Live events should not happen!
  • Outdoor seating for the meals. 

In your own words, describe what would make you most comfortable to begin traveling for work related events?

Similarly to the previous question regarding safety measures, below are a handful of selected verbatim responses to what would make the respondent most comfortable with traveling for work-related events. 

Editor’s Note: All bullet points listed below are verbatim responses and have not been edited for grammar or style to maintain the integrity of the responses provided. Publishing these responses does not constitute WWD’s endorsement of the comments made by respondents.

  • End all the mask, vaccine, guideline media fear-mongering and go back to normal!
  • Not afraid to travel by car; very leery getting on a plane. You can't isolate in a plane.
  • Herd Immunity reached across the nation.
  • No pre-qualifications - ready now.
  • Social distancing and regular general housekeeping and hygiene.  
  • driving own vehicle; large open room scenario for interaction; no masks
  • I would not be truly comfortable until all restrictions on masks or vaccination status are completely dropped. Otherwise, I would need to be constantly explaining that I have a medical condition and cannot participate because of it.
  • I haven’t stopped since the beginning of this nonsense. Having No mask Karen’s and their alleged moral superiority would be great. A lot less shifting Government ‘mandates’ and a lot more Freedom. 
  • I went to a conference last October and the operators at this plant have NO problem going to conferences, trade shows, safety meetings, or gatherings of any kind right now.
  • For them to be scheduled as in-person events vs pandemic virtual meetings and training.
  • I have not issues.  I feel comfortable.  
  • Self certification of no-covid symptoms.  Guilt-free optional mask environment -- people have a choice to wear them or not based on personal preference.  
  • The above described safety measures, sufficient vaccination for herd immunity, guaranteed enforcement of PPE & social distancing, proper ventilation/sanitation 
  • Have all events  require covid 19 vaccination
  • My company will not allow travel for work related events at this time.  The earliest date they are considering is July 2021.  I would feel more comfortable if everyone who is able to get a vaccine would get a vaccine!  We will never reach herd immunity if people keep "opting out."  I feel like a kid in elementary school at a quiet table waiting to go to lunch, but the loud and rowdy table won't quiet down, so we are all going to get punished and be late for lunch!
  • Good air quality and proper ventilation are key to ensuring safety. Good health care, hygiene and vaccinations are also important. 
  • Financial incentive. I usually would exhibit at six regional water/wastewater conferences each year on the east coast. These shows provide very few quantifiable sales for manufacturers. Many times we participate to show support of an organization. I will only attend the conferences that put a focus on the exhibitors. 
  • Attendance requires vaccine type passport or antigen test. E.g. A local entertainment venue (Mohegan Sun) will require such documentation for entry.
  • I'd be totally fine with local and regional events, the thing that would hold me up is air travel. I think waiting a bit longer until the vaccine is a little more widespread in the next couple months before air travel is a good idea. Right now a lot of people are ready to get back to normal, myself included, and I think local events are a great start.


When looking at the above responses, WWD concludes that there is no degree of clear certainty on live event attendance. Response have a lot of nuance to them in the open-ended questions, and skew toward having safety measures implemented or required. But on that same token, many respondents indicate they are quite comfortable with traveling to events, particularly if those events are closer to home. 

There is also a group that very much believes there is no need for any of the safety measures nor are they concerned with traveling for work-related events, regardless of proximity or size. Additionally, a decent portion of respondents are neutral on the matter, and appear to still be weighing the pros and cons before making a decision. It is not clear if this is because they could be swayed from being uncomfortable to comfortable through safety measures and vaccinations or if they would swing from comfortable to uncomfortable because those measures were not taken.

WWD also considers that the responses to these questions could be related to desire to attend based on the intended results or outcomes being sought at the live event. A manufacturer or exhibitor may be uncomfortable with attending because there is an uncertainty regarding the number of attendees that will go to the trade show. This may also results in fewer sales leads and potentially make attendance less than profitable, which would be an uncomfortable outcome.

In any case, below is a link to a dashboard with all of the charts displayed above as well as every single verbatim response to the open-ended questions to provide a greater understanding of how many respondents noted the same or similar safety measures or none at all.

Visit the Survey Results Dashboard