2022 Will Be a Turnaround Year, But How Long Until the Industry Fully Recovers?

Frances Ferrante, Senior Editor

WASHINGTON, D.C. The travel industry has always relied on U.S. Travel Association’s Roger Dow to tell it like it is. In this week’s address to the National Press Club,, the organization’s  President and CEO for the past 17 years was optimistic that 2022 will be a turnaround year for business travel and events.

“We have made a lot of progress since March 2020, but there is still a lot of work ahead,” Dow said. “Business travel makes up a significant portion of the overall travel economy. Without it, we cannot fully recover.”

He compared the pandemic recovery to the period after 9/11, when many predicted that our industry would never recover. “But we did. With great focus and determination, we united to have our strongest decade ever. We made it through 9/11, the global financial crisis and other health scares like Zika,” he said.

Show organizers are in agreement that 2022 will be a turnaround year, though some see the recovery period extending longer than they had originally thought.

“Initially we anticipated a V shaped recovery for the events industry,” Shawn Pierce, President, Strategic Events, Meetings & Incentives at MCI, said. “As the pandemic lingers, it has become clear that our growth and rebound trajectory will be much more gradual. MCI anticipates that by the end of 2024 we will achieve similar results to 2019 on event-to-event compatibles.”

Related. Trade Shows and Events Enter a New Phase: COVID Mitigation

Joel Davis, Founder and CEO of JD Events, was more optimistic. “We held three events in the fourth quarter of 2021, each with stronger than expected attendance and surprisingly high rates of exhibitor satisfaction,” Davis said. “We now expect all our shows to be held on schedule in 2022. We are projecting gross revenues to more than double over 2021, which will exceed our 2019 revenues.”

Desiree Hanson, Executive Vice President, Energy North America, Fashion, and AXN, Clarion Events, concurred. “2022 and beyond looks incredibly promising for live events and we are already seeing the signs,” Hanson said.

The OFFPRICE Show is having its third event that was planned during the pandemic, Tricia Barglof, CEM, Executive Director, OFFPRICE Show, said, and is seeing growth near the size of pre-COVID levels.
“We are not there yet, but the team continues to be encouraged by feedback from both exhibitors and attendees on the quality of networking and connections that they see at our shows and enthusiastic about the number of brand new contacts they are meeting at our events.  We continue to see first time attendance averaging 25% at the shows we have done,” Barglof said. “I think what this tells us, is that face-to-face events are more relevant than ever.  Where else can you see the amount of products all under the same roof, where in some cases it would take weeks and multiple trips to see the same number of suppliers outside of a tradeshow?  And given how much the supply chain has been disrupted by the pandemic, a trade show is the most efficient way for attendees to find the goods they need to bounce-back as quickly as possible.”
The Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) Show has had similar success. “The 2021 SEMA Show successfully brought the automotive aftermarket industry together and amplified just how big of an impact in-person trade shows have for exhibitors and attendees. The pandemic taught us that the business paradigm can change and evolve, but we saw that trade shows still have tremendous value to accelerate business through a direct connection of industry stakeholders. As we look to the future and the 2022 SEMA Show, we are excited to continue the momentum we generated last November and deliver a fully immersive experience that exhibitors and attendees can only get from an in-person event,” Tom Gattuso, Vice President, Events, SEMA, said.

The most likely recovery scenario most likely lies somewhere in the middle, according to the Center for Exhibition Industry Research. The most recent CEIR Index said it’s just 10% probable that the exhibition industry will recover fully by the end of 2022, 60% probable that recovery will occur in 2023 and 30% probable that it won’t take place until 2024.

One thing is certain, as Dow told the press gathered in Washington, D.C.: “From adversity comes opportunity, from challenges comes growth. Always, in facing past troubles, our industry has displayed incredible resilience and unity and emerged stronger than before. The same is true today.”

Reach Roger Dow at rdow@ustravel.org; Shawn Pierce at Shawn.Pierce@wearemci.com; Joel Davis at joel@jdevents.com; Desiree Hanson at Desiree.Hanson@clarionevents.com; Tricia Barglof at tbarglof@offpriceshow.com; Tom Gattuso at TomG@sema.org