Trans-Pacific Maritime 2019 conference attendees visit booths and chat inside the Long Beach Convention Center. Photo courtesy of Caught in the Moment Photography.

The Trans-Pacific Maritime (TPM) conference is returning to Long Beach.

The annual event, which brings together leaders in international trade and shipping from around the world, has historically been held in Long Beach—but the coronavirus pandemic interrupted that tradition. The conference was canceled in 2020 and held online last year.

The event, though, is once again set to resume in-person at the Long Beach Convention Center from Feb. 27 to March 2, following the TPM Tech event on Feb. 24 and 25 at the Renaissance Long Beach Hotel.

TPM is one of the largest gatherings of companies from all sectors of the global trade market. From ocean carriers to freight forwarders and technology companies to terminal operating companies, members of the international trade community come together to discuss the pressing topics in the industry.

With ships stuck waiting for a place to berth, supply chains delays stifling business and the White House becoming directly involved in dealing with port congestion, the event is perhaps more necessary than ever.

The conference was founded by the Journal of Commerce in 2001, and the information firm IHS Markit took over the event when it purchased the journal in 2014. Long Beach hosted TPM from 2002 to 2019, with the exception of 2009, when it was held in Downtown Los Angeles.

Peter Tirschwell, who helped found TPM and now serves as the vice president of maritime and trade for IHS Markit, said the past two years of uncertainty with the conference have been difficult.

“It was a huge disappointment in 2020 when we canceled it,” he said by phone.

But it was necessary. The lead-up to the 2020 event was marked by COVID-19’s first real impacts in Long Beach.

“We were getting increasingly nervous as the week went on because we started seeing the first community spread cases,” Tirschwell said. “The first fatality was a week before TPM was going to begin.”

The firm decided to cancel.

It would be the first of many Long Beach conferences and conventions to change course that year. Now, its return solidifies the convention industry’s rebound.

“This is kind of symbolic in a way because this is the first conference that we had to cancel because of the pandemic,” Long Beach Conventions and Visitors Bureau representative Sam Mehlinger said by phone, “and now it is back.”

Mehlinger explained the conference’s significance for Long Beach.

“The TPM conference is probably the highest profile international trade conference in the U.S., and it has a high profile on the global scale as well,” she said. “Having that conference in Long Beach certainly puts us on the map in that community, and is a showing of the importance of the Port of Long Beach to international trade and that sector in the U.S.”

The conference also offers an economic boost to the city, with an estimated $1.9 million in overall economic impact coming from the over 3,500 attendees of the conference.

Tirschwell, for his part, is excited to return to a live format.

“[TPM] is indispensable because it is an opportunity for us to interact in person with the market,” he said. “The main value this event creates is bringing people together on a live basis.”

Getting back to this point, though, was still a challenge.

As the pandemic showed signs of slowing down late last summer, TPM’s organizers had to decide what 2022’s conference would look like. COVID seemed to be slowing down for a moment, and Tirschwell and his colleagues at IHS Markit took a leap of faith.

“When we first made the call, we thought that there was a strong enough chance that we would be able to hold the event live that we should put the planning process into motion,” Tirschwell said. “If we waited, the time period to plan might have been too compressed.”

Taking that step forward required an even bigger commitment from organizers, with the conference taking at least six months to plan and requiring contracts be made with the convention center as well as hotels and other entities in the city.

“We said ‘OK, we are going to take a chance,’ because by doing so, we had to invest money … with the possibility that COVID might turn against us and make the event impossible to hold,” Tirschwell said.

The emergence of new COVID variants in the intervening months highlighted the risk that organizers were taking.

“On a couple of occasions over the past six-to-eight months, if you had asked anyone out of the market what they thought the chances of TPM happening live was, people would have said ‘I don’t know, less than 50-50,’” Tirschwell said.  “If you asked me that question, I would have said, ‘I honestly don’t know if TPM is going to happen.’”

But with COVID-19 cases now on the decline once more, the event’s return has strong support.

“The response from sponsor companies has been very positive, and that reflects a strong desire from the market to be able to interact in person,” Tirschwell said.

COVID-19 safety protocols will be in place, but Tirschwell said the conference will otherwise largely remain the same as past iterations.

The location, meanwhile, was never called into question. He explained that IHS Markit views Downtown Long Beach—with its hotels, restaurants, and venues—as a perfect setting for the conference.

“The event is very well settled in Long Beach,” Tirschwell said.

“It is right next to and within view of the port, so for a lot of the [executives] at exporting and importing companies that attend, there’s a lot of maritime activity right there,” he added. “Everything from doing port tours to doing meetings, being in close proximity to the largest container gateway in all of America is a good location for a container shipping conference.”

Tirschwell also said the pandemic’s impacts on the supply chain have made this year’s conference as crucial as it has ever been.

“There have never been so many burning issues on the agenda in all of the 20+ years of TPM,” he said.

“The idea that the core of this industry is coming together at precisely the time where there’s never been more chaos out in the market,” he added, “makes it a real opportunity for meaningful and important discussions.”

For more information and to register, visit events.joc.com/tpm.

Christian May-Suzuki

Christian May-Suzuki is a reporter at the Long Beach Business Journal.

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