“At this point, unfortunately, and despite our best efforts, we will not have our convention in 2021.”
With that single sentence, Safari Club President Scott Chapman put an end to months of speculation and illustrated yet again the continuing negative impact COVID-19 has had on our world.
Last night, Safari Club International’s Executive Committee voted to cancel the 2021 SCI Convention scheduled for February 3-6, 2021 in Las Vegas, adding yet another casualty to the growing list of events cancelled because of the global pandemic.
They reached their decision knowing in advance that not everyone would agree.
But hours of internal discussions and meetings with Nevada, Clark County and Las Vegas officials convinced SCI officials no other decision was appropriate.
As SCI and SCI-Foundation’s CEO Laird Hamberlin told me, “we couldn’t make it work with the box we’d been put into by Las Vegas, Clark County and Nevada officials.”
The box in Las Vegas is, indeed, a small one. Using its latest guidance, Las Vegas’ rules limit events to 250 people. In some instances, that rule can be maximized to 1,000 people.
SCI’s exhibition space alone covers 625,000 square feet. Each evening during the Convention, SCI holds banquets and social events routinely attended by as many as 2,000 people.
Considered by many to be essential elements of every SCI convention, they were non-starters under the Las Vegas restrictions.
Under Las Vegas’ restrictions, crowds on the SCI show floor (top) would have been severely restricted. SCI’s popular formal dinners and entertainment events (below) were non-starters. SCI photos with permission
Changing the dates, I’m told, wasn’t an option. Restrictions on crowds and uncertainties about international travel were also concerns.
Collectively, all the challenges and unknowns just made the kind of extravaganzas the SCI Convention has become, impossible.
SCI is one of those organizations that has positioned itself to handle uncertain times, including these in which we all find ourselves.
Crucial to that positioning is the fact that, unlike other organizations, the annual convention doesn’t supply the majority of annual funding for the organization and its myriad activities.
If you’re a hunter, angler or outdoors-person, you can take comfort in that. And both Hamberlin and Chapman assured me that, while the cancellation is unfortunate, it isn’t a catastrophe.
“We’ll still to be fighting for hunters’ rights,” says Chapman, “our lawyers, lobbyists, and biologists are still on the job at our Washington offices.”
“COVID,” he said, “is only interfering with our convention- not our work.”
As he pointed out, SCI’s collaborative work with African wildlife officials stopped import restriction legislation in California, prevented passage of “the CECIL Act” internationally, and was instrumental in helping push the Great American Outdoors Act through Congress. Another accomplishment is a Memorandum of Understanding between the USFWS and the Cattleman’s Association for sustainable use conservation.
As we close in on election day, the SCI PAC has endorsed thirty-three candidates for federal offices.
And SCI continues to support the fight against a Colorado ballot initiative to reintroduce wolves there.
“In many court cases,” Chapman told me, “we’re the only people there representing hunters when we show up in court.”
“PETA and other animal rights groups are there,” he said, “and judges notice that when they look into the courtroom. Not having representation can indirectly influence judges to believe the matter before them isn’t really important to hunters. We’re there to counter that argument.”
Yet, while the work outside the Convention will continue, SCI officials don’t underestimating the impact this will have on some exhibitors. That impact has been a major factor in the decision making process.
“For some of our nearly two thousand exhibitors,” Hamberlin told me, “the Convention represents as much as eighty percent of their annual bookings and business. We understand this decision has a profound impact on them.”
“But, he explained, “we were determined not to put on an event that wouldn’t have permitted enough people to attend to make the numbers work for exhibitors, members- and wildlife.”
That’s a key point.
Often, when writing about large events, we forget that while many of the same faces are at many of them, all “shows” aren’t the same.
SHOT Show, for example, is a “trade only” event- no retailing is allowed. Attendance is tightly controlled.
SCI, like the NRA’s Annual Meetings, is heavily geared toward selling to attendees. For their exhibitors, it’s crucial that as many members as possible can attend.
If crowds are limited, severely as in the case of Las Vegas’ current guidelines, sufficient numbers of members (prospective customers) can’t attend.
Without big attendance numbers, the participation investment doesn’t work. Chances of covering the cost of attendance is doubtful and the hopes of “making” a sales year impossible.
SCI is already working to expand their “Share the Impact” campaign to help exhibitors. The campaign has already raised more than a half-million dollars in much-needed assistance for guides and outfitters impacted by the global coronavirus’ impact on trade and travel.
And, even as Chapman and Hamberlin were speaking with me as representatives of the organization, they couldn’t disguise their personal disappointment. Everyone wanted the show to go on.
“We’re no different from our other members,” Hamberlin said, “we look forward to the Convention, to socializing, and seeing old friends. My kids used to refer to the Convention as ‘dad’s spring break’. We feel it, too.”
Ultimately, however, the facts overruled the emotional attraction of the annual event.
“We have a fantastic executive committee,” Chapman says, “they run on facts, not passion. They made the decision knowing that fifty percent of the people wouldn’t like it. But believing it was the right decision.”
What does he say to the fifty percent who aren’t pleased?
“SCI isn’t going away,” he told me, “and on January 19-22, 2022 we are going to have a fantastic show at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas.”
We’ll keep you posted.