From Virtual to Reality: The Post-Pandemic Resurgence of Fairs

It may be hard to think of warm summer days and flashing carnival lights while facing snow and freezing temperatures, but members of the fair community recently gathered in Wisconsin Dells for the annual Wisconsin Association of Fairs Convention.

Jo Reynolds, International Association of Fairs and Expo chair says, “It’s challenging to compare pre-COVID times to now, but what we’re witnessing is a resurgence in the strength of fairs, with sponsors returning.”

Despite challenges like increased food costs and travel constraints for carnivals, the strength of fairs is returning. Visitors are eager to experience the hands-on, in-person joy of fairs after a virtual 2020.

When comparing Wisconsin to fairs in other parts of the world, Reynolds says what stands out most is Wisconsin’s strong agricultural focus.

“Wisconsin, with its emphasis on agriculture education and specialty crops, stands out as an active state. The dedication of leaders like Jamie Buttke has been instrumental in making Wisconsin a standout in the industry.”

As the industry adapts post-pandemic, Reynolds highlighted concerns about inflation affecting fuel and food costs. She remains cautiously optimistic about the industry’s future, emphasizing the importance of staying adaptable.

Traveling across the U.S. and even to Australia, Reynolds emphasized the universal nature of fairs. “We all do the same things but in our unique ways. The common goal is to connect families and showcase agriculture, creating a shared experience.”

Reynolds stressed the importance of strong relationships with vendors, exhibitors, and carnivals for successful fairs. She says one-on-one conversations, asking tough questions, and aligning missions are key to creating mutually beneficial partnerships. 

Looking to the future, Reynolds emphasized the need to keep agriculture at the forefront. “Education is crucial, especially for urban visitors. We want to convey that the agricultural community is friendly and filled with good people.”