HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- In an empty convention hall, James Williams told ABC13 about his struggles. He is a journeyman trade show event worker and president of the local union of tradesmen and women who have been out of work since March.
"It's been very difficult," Williams said. "All the shows that had been scheduled for the next six months were done. So in a five-day span, we knew we weren't going to do anything."
Williams and others cheered Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner this week as he supported their efforts to get the attention of Congress. The trade industry wants direct help.
Laurette Veres owns the Bridal Extravaganza Show, a twice-a-year wedding exhibition.
"We were working, working, working, and then one day we just weren't," Veres told ABC13.
She had to furlough all but one of her employees when the summer show was canceled. They are hopeful about next year and are planning a pandemic-safe version of their event for January with a touchless guide on attendees' phones.
"If you've been comfortable at the grocery store or you've been comfortable at Target, it's going to be similar," Veres said. "There are going to be vendors on display. They're going to have things you can see, but you don't have to touch them if you don't want to."
It's not just those who work for or at conventions impacted. Michael Conti is an event director for a company that hosts shows for energy and health. They've survived, but see the impact across a host of other industries.
"2020 has been a very stressful year to say the least," Conti said. "We aren't able to bring people in to explore our great city, to spend money with our local economy, to rent our cars, and to fly to Houston. I think getting back to trade shows is going to be big for Houston as well."
According to Houston First, the group that works to recruit large meetings and conventions to Houston, the city lost more than 400,000 hotel room nights in 2020. That resulted in $251 million in lost revenue. It hurt those hotels along with restaurants, entertainment venues, transportation companies and other hospitality-related businesses in the region.
The trade unions are actively lobbying Congress for help, not only for trade companies but for independent contractors. If they don't get help, they say it would add insult to injury.