DÜSSELDORF, GERMANY (Oct. 18, 10:45 a.m. EDT) — Terrorists are targeting Americans. Headlines are filled with scares about anthrax, or worse. … Feel like flying to Germany for a trade show right about now?
Organizers of the upcoming K 2001 expect lower U.S. attendance in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks. They say security has been beefed up at the U.S. pavilion and across the sprawling Messe Dusseldorf fairgrounds. Life — and the world's largest plastics trade show — will go on as scheduled Oct. 25-Nov. 1.
At the last K show, in 1998, about 10,000 attendees came from North America, including 8,000 from the United States, out of 265,000 total visitors.
Show organizers say security, in general, will be increased at the K show, which has 1.6 million square feet of exhibit space. Erhard Wienkamp, project director of K 2001, reassured visitors to the city of Dusseldorf.
“We are in constant contact with security authorities and have been assured by them that there is no increased risk for the Dusseldorf region,” he said in a statement. “Nevertheless, we have taken all necessary precautions — for obvious reasons, I will not go into details about them.”
Special security measures will be in place at the U.S. pavilion, according to Anne Meerboth-Maltz, senior director of public relations at Messe Dusseldorf North America in Chicago. In the past, security was set up only after the show closed each evening. At K 2001, she said, security professionals will cover the U.S. pavilion 24 hours a day.
According to K organizers, only one U.S. exhibitor officially has pulled out. But some companies that chose to remain did so primarily to reserve space at future shows. Those firms may have empty booths, or exhibits staffed with a skeleton crew.
The K show is the world's most important plastics trade show. Companies typically make major announcements of new technology at the show, which draws people from around the world every three years.
Officially, K show organizers expect attendance this year to top the 265,000 from K'98. But with the unsettling news, nobody really knows, Meerboth-Maltz said. She said U.S. attendance should be down, but declined to offer any numbers.
“We can't expect to have those sort of numbers. We don't know what to expect,” she said.
Some people may want to come but will be blocked by company policy.
“We have a lot of companies where the corporate policy is just no more corporate flights before Christmas, so there might be people who want to go but they can't. They're not allowed to,” she said.
At Messe Dusseldorf, the average K show visitor should not notice overt signs of stepped-up security, Meerboth-Maltz said.
“I'm pretty sure everything will not be obvious, but it is there,” she said.
There are no plans to have metal detectors, she said. To get in, you still will have to pass your entry card through a turnstile.
This year, for the first time, the show is asking visitors to fill out a registration form to get in — but it will not be mandatory. The move, planned in advance, had nothing to do with security concerns, Meerboth-Maltz said.
As at past K shows, the general public will be allowed into the show every day. Unlike shows in the United States, that open-door policy is typical at German trade shows.
European attendance is likely to be less affected by terrorism issues, K organizers said.
“We Europeans grew up with terrorism in the '70s and the '80s,” said Meerboth-Maltz, a German. “We grew up with the knowledge that you can get hurt from the inside.”
A series of airplane hijackings in the 1970s caused European countries to improve airport security.
“[Terrorism] is not an everyday experience; it's just something that a lot of Europeans grew up with in the past,” she said.