Sun ‘n Fun 2021 will launch in five weeks and although the show will have fewer exhibitors and slightly restricted attendance, organizers have taken extraordinary steps to mitigate COVID-19 risks. “Everybody’s health and well-being is our number one priority,” Sun ‘n Fun President Lites Leenhouts told us in this video interview recorded this week. “Obviously, we want to do the fly-in, but we gotta do it smart and we gotta do it safe,” he added.
Crowd and exhibitor wise, Leenhouts said the show will look more like those of the early 2000s, before the current management grew attendance. “Our attendance is going to be down a little bit from the last five or six years. Our advance ticket sales are on par with 2020 before the COVID hit,” he said. But organizers are planning for smaller crowds.
In recent years, Sun ‘n Fun has had about 500 exhibitors, but this year expects about 390. “Exhibitors want to be here. But some of the bigger companies’ policies don’t allow travel yet. We expected a 25 percent drop, but we’re really holding a little bit better than that,” Leenhouts said. Plans for forums and workshop are still in flux but participation will be reduced because participants will be more spread out. Evening programs are not planned as a COVID-19 precaution.
Neither Florida nor Polk County have mask requirements in place but Sun ‘n Fun has instituted its own. Masks will be required to enter the grounds and in any of the exhibitor hangars. “When you go into the exhibit halls, most of the exhibitors want you to wear a mask when you’re conversing with them about their products,” Leenhouts told us. “We’re not going to have the mask police going around throwing people out if they don’t have it on. We will be asking you to wear it appropriately. We’re all adults. We all want to enjoy this event. The only way it’s going to work is if we all follow the policy,” he said. When outside and away from others and in the food courts, masks won’t be required.
High-contact areas will be sanitized frequently, including portable toilets. Masks and hand sanitizer will be widely available for those who want them, Leenhouts told us. The show is considering hiring a company to do additional cleaning as needed.
Attendance will be limited at the gate to no more than 30,000 a day. But Leenhouts doubts Sun ‘n Fun will have to throttle the inflow. “Quite candidly, as much as I would love to envision this giant mass of humanity coming out for our event, it’s not going to happen. We know that. Let’s face it, the economy has taken a hit. There are people out of work, there are companies that have closed up. Aviation is a hobby and most people look at it as a luxury,” Leenhouts said.
The show runs from April 13 through April 18. For additional information, see the event website.