As trade shows and exhibitions were canceled all over the world this year, many people are wondering what the future looks like for this industry. Exhibitions such as CES, Mobile World Congress, International Travel and Tourism, Arab Health, The Good Food Show, and The Beauty Experience – to name a few, attract thousands of people from all over the world to one place – which right now is difficult to imagine. This year has seen the cancellation of the Olympics, the Edinburgh Festival, and pretty much every football match on the planet, making the future more difficult to predict than ever.
The losses to organizers and venues will be huge, and while other industries are seeing ways to recover, the events industry is one that not only needs to recover but is going to have to change massively. Trade shows have always been places where buyers, whether they are buying industrial farming equipment or hotel shampoo bottles, could have a look and feel of what they were buying, compare from one stall to the next, and sellers could smooth-talk their potential customers. While most people have discovered that they can conduct their meetings from their living rooms and have the same results, will buyers and sellers conclude that they, too, can do their business remotely? Or does striking up business relationships always require face-to-face contact?
While the future is very uncertain, it does seem likely that a post-coronavirus, the exhibitions industry will have fewer, bigger players, but what sort of trade shows will they provide? Some have already gone digital such as MipTV, which went ahead with video content streamed online instead. However, this isn’t always going to be possible, when it’s a tube and pipe fair or a metals show, as the visitors need to see up close what they might be buying.
Before the Coronavirus pandemic, events and exhibitions were already using increasing amounts of technology to enhance the experience for their visitors. They have been using digital marketing to promote events and social media for others to follow events remotely. Digital advances have been used over recent years to improve real-world conferences; for example, some shows had begun to trial matchmaking technology that can tell visitors where to find an exhibitor they may be interested in, and what time they will be ready to have a meeting. Based on a visitor’s meetings in previous years, it can also suggest who they may want to catch up with this time. However, will this technology be any use if people can’t meet face-to-face?
For trade shows and exhibitions to be successful in the future, the format will have to change. There will have to be a greater distance between stalls, modular exhibition stands, and of course, the attendees. It may be that an exhibition that once occupied one hall will now span two. Who knows if we will ever go back to shaking hands again. But exhibitions may see temperature-checks upon entry, hand sanitizers at every station, and PPE for those who are working there. It’s highly likely that a similar uniform will be enforced on exhibitors and venue employees as personal protective equipment could help to keep staff, exhibitors, and visitors safe. Exhibitors, food vendors, and other staff may also be required to wear gloves and face masks during the event, and there will likely be stricter regulations on cleaning the facilities. This might take some time to get used to, but the aim will be to create a safer environment for everyone and will have long term benefits for exhibitors and the exhibition industry.
While the government is looking to ease restrictions slowly, rather than put everything back to normal straight away, this might mean that exhibitions and events will have an on the number of attendees, which could be problematic to the industry as event organizers use high visitor numbers to attract exhibitors. However, in smaller and more targeted events, exhibitors will thrive as organizers will be forced to vet everyone who applies for a ticket, meaning the trade show floor will only be filled with people who have a genuine interest in the industry and the power to make decisions.
Right now, if you wanted to host an event, you would have to do it online, and as people get more comfortable using this technology and attending virtual events, it is likely to become increasingly popular. Even when we can go back to having mass gatherings, it could be that people choose to host virtual events over physical ones. Digital events have so many benefits as they are far cheaper to host and more environmentally friendly. They are also cheaper to attend for visitors as they don’t have to pay for travel, accommodation, or supplies. This could attract far more people than you would normally be able to reach. Then there is the obvious benefit of not having to physically attend and walking around for days on end. You can see who you want to see far easier and quicker and won’t have to waste any time.
While no one knows exactly what the future holds, we can only guess what the industry will look like when things begin to take on the new normal. However, there are going to be changes; we know that, and they might take time to get used to it. But the industry will survive, it just may look a little different to what you’re used to – but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing. Who knows, these changes could turn out to be for the best, and the industry will be better than ever. It could be that the shift to online sees the industry grow, that more events take place, and they are more accessible around the world, leaving the events which cannot be done online to thrive.