Looking beyond the pandemic challenge, UFI, the global association of the exhibition industry has identified customer retention, climate change and carbon reductions, data & digital debate, a new staffing narrative, and tipping points as five trends that it sees will shape the next 12 – 18 months of the exhibition industry.
- Customer retention is seen as a key topic during the “in between” time with travel remaining depressed – with fewer people able to attend exhibitions. At the same time, the urge to return to the show floor is tangible. In 2021 the focus mainly was on the “trade” in trade show, with sellers reporting good business with the buyers they meet and referring to “high quality visitors”. As the pandemic complexities diminish going forward, it will be a question how fast and to what degree pre pandemic customers will return, and to what degree fewer, more senior attendees becoming the norm.
- Climate change and carbon reductions is high on the events industry’s agenda, underlined by hundreds of business from across the sector having signed up to the “net zero carbon events” pledge presented at COP26. Customers, governments, investors, employees are all increasingly demanding that the carbon footprint of the industry is reduced. These efforts do not start from zero but rather from a strong case that every exhibition helps to reduce carbon emissions as it aggregates an industry and its players at one location at the same time, saving a multitude of individual business trips instead.
- The discussion about data stewardship, data ownership, and data monetisation will only grow in relevance as business model evolves towards more holistically connecting supply and demand. UFI states a clear “Yes, face to face will remain at the core of the events industry”, but tomorrow’s champions will be those companies who find the best activation between on-site industry events and online communities, content and services. “Platform solutions are here to stay”, the association predicts.
- A new staffing narrative will be needed as most companies have been forced to let some employees go during the pandemic and some have left the industry to take on positions in seemingly more stable industries and sectors. Yet the sector has always been able to attract bright, motivated, and uniquely talented people – and this will not change. “But we will be well advised to re-think how we position our businesses, and to write a new narrative focused on why a career in business events stands out”, UFI is convinced. For a generation that is driven by the search for purpose, looking for meaning in their work, wanting to be involved – business events can offer them what no other sector can: Being there where the future is taking shape, and being a member of the community that makes it happen.
- Staying alert to potential tipping points, that – according to tipping point theories – through one event or development that change something forever remains important. Thus far, the “Uber” disruption moment, where a digital newcomer rewrites the business model, has not taken pace. Instead, rather the opposite, as the industry has embraced digital solutions, alongside more traditional services, enriching offerings and value. However, UFI sees the industry “called upon to find the right answers, perhaps the right mix, to many challenges – from exhibitor and visitor retention to climate change.”