While less stringent CDC mask guidelines suggest that things are getting back to normal in some parts of the United States, the pandemic rages on in many other areas of the globe. In addition to causing tragic losses of life, the coronavirus also continues to present challenges for live events, particularly those of a global nature. Citing concerns around new variants of COVID-19, the slower-than-expected distribution of vaccines, and the ensuing uncertainty of travel conditions for attendees, Messe Berlin and gfu Consumer & Home Electronics GmbH today announced that IFA 2021 will not be held in September. “We did not take this decision lightly,” said Messe Berlin CEO Martin Ecknig in a statement. “However, the health and safety of everybody has to be absolutely paramount.”
Even though the number of fully vaccinated people continues to rise in countries such as Israel, the UAE, the UK, and the United States—and Germany’s health minister recently announced that vaccines would be available to everyone on June 7th—other parts of the globe have limited or no access to vaccines at all. With 300,000 new cases of COVID-19 confirmed every day in India at the moment, and recent outbreaks in Japan and Nepal, it’s no surprise that most pandemic-related international travel restrictions remain in place. Visas and business travel for conferences and shows are challenging and costly enough even in normal times, but with no official or clear timeline on when the pandemic will subside across the globe, it’s hard to plan.
“Innovation needs a platform; it needs the focus of global attention. That’s why brands and manufacturers across the tech industry were very keen to come to IFA Berlin 2021,” said Kai Hillebrandt, Chairman of the Supervisory Board of gfu Consumer & Home Electronics GmbH. “There simply now are too many uncertainties. Therefore, right now it has become near impossible for anyone to responsibly plan their participation in any trade show.” Since the pandemic started at the beginning of 2020, most trade shows and conventions have been held as virtual online events. So far this year, that trend continues, with some global events such as the World Economic Forum (WEF) earlier this week canceling its annual meeting that was supposed to have taken place in Singapore in August. Even so, some smaller stateside 2021 consumer electronics gatherings such as CEDIA are scheduled to resume as in-person events.
IFA, which is held every year in Berlin, has a particularly international footprint, making pandemic-era logistics even more complicated. Approximately 245,990 attendees from more than 130 countries attended the last full version of IFA in 2019. That’s a lot of travel plans and visas.
“The efforts to contain this pandemic—from the roll-out of vaccination programs to the resumption of international travel—did not happen at the pace we had hoped for,” said Ecknig. “Given these developments, this difficult and disappointing decision was inevitable.”
It was just a little over one month ago that IFA organizers announced the full-scale return of the event, with some sections of the conference reserved by more than 80 percent. Despite the cancelation this year, conference organizers say they are working with exhibitors and other attendees to shift their planning focus on IFA 2022, which will be held on September 2-6 next year.
It’s not clear if there will be a smaller-scale, invite-only, or virtual version of the event, as was held in 2020, but as of today, both Berlin Photo Week and SHIFT Mobility, two IFA events also scheduled for September, are still slated to take place this year.