Major Industry Survey Predicts Fast Return to Live Events

Andrea Doyle, Senior News Editor, and Frances Ferrante
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PARIS/LONDON —There’s new reason for optimism across the events industry, according to the soon-to-be-released Global Recovery Insights 2020 report, a massive study conducted by live event research specialists Explori, in partnership with UFI, the Global Association of the Exhibition Industry, and supported by the Society for Independent Show Organizers (SISO). The research is based on more than 9,000 responses from trade show exhibitors and attendees across 30 countries.

The survey shows no evidence of a major shift away from live events. In fact, a majority of exhibiting companies who participated in the research expect a fast return to their pre-COVID investment in live shows. Both attendees and exhibitors agreed that the social aspect of live shows is critical to doing business and can’t be replaced by virtual events. While the desired frequency of meetings has declined for both groups, this is only slightly true for exhibitors, showing a strong desire among exhibition companies to return to on-site show floors.

Sophie Holt, Global Strategy Director at Explori

Its timing was unparalleled. “When we embarked on this project, as lockdown commenced this spring, I was apprehensive as to what we would find — it was possible that we were about to produce research that could spell dark times for our industry,” Sophie Holt, Global Strategy Director at Explori said. “But as we analyzed the results, it was clear that there was much to be positive about. Not only were live events being sorely missed by both visitors and exhibitors, it seems that they have not found alternative channels that can replace the unique aspects of face-to-face networking.”

Related. Recently Released UFI and Explori Joint Report Explore Whether Virtual Events Are Here to Stay

Budgets are expected to be reinstated quickly with 53% of exhibitors expecting their show investments to return to pre-COVID-19 levels within 12 months, while 28% report that their investments will return as soon as trade shows resume once again. As of late summer, overall marketing budgets had not seen severe budget cuts. In many cases, funds allocated to live events have been put on hold.

Both groups clearly desire a return to pre-COVID-19 social levels, face-to-face being a critical draw for both groups who depend on live events to create and maintain connections within their communities. On a global level, study participants believe that this aspect of events — social connections — cannot be effectively replaced by digital events. The report has a clear message: while exhibitor quality is important, exhibitors are now also valuing visitor quality, over quantity.

Kai Hattendorf, CEO and Managing Director at UFI

“This study delivers important insights and reassurance to organizers and the wider industry, as they plan ahead in these uncertain times. It underlines the clear preference and importance of being able to meet in-person to do business, and the desire for both visitors and exhibitors to again meet face-to-face. It also underlines the negative impact all industries are experiencing as a result of industry events not going ahead,” said Kai Hattendorf, CEO and Managing Director at UFI.

There is a great deal of pent-up demand to meet face-to-face once again. The first shows that attendees and exhibitors will return to, according to the survey, will be those they trust to deliver both robust safety measures along with a high-quality audience.

“Digital does not replace face-to-face, the message from our industry’s customers could not be clearer. Around the world, the vast majority of exhibiting companies and trade show visitors are waiting to return to the show floors we build and operate. At the same time, this research described our industry’s homework to make sure we can deliver what our customers need and want,” Hattendorf concluded.

The full report will soon be shared with UFI and SISO members. In the meantime, watch the UFI connects session on the Global Recovery Project here.

Reach Kai Hattendorf at (33) 1 46 39 75 00 or kh@ufi.org or Sophie Holt +44 (0)20 3818 8230 or s.holt@explori.com.