UFI Global Barometer Report Shows Reasons for Optimism

Andrea Doyle, Executive Editor
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PARIS – UFI, the Global Association of the Exhibition Industry, has released the latest edition of its Global Barometer research, which takes the pulse of the industry. While the Barometer reveals the impact COVID-19 pandemic has had on the global exhibition industry in 2020, there is room for optimism. According to the Barometer, things are gradually improving, and in-person exhibitions and business events will bounce back quickly.

The numbers are promising. Global companies expecting no activity for the last quarter of 2021 have fallen from 53% in January to less than 10%. The number of companies reporting normal activity has increased from 12% to close to 50%. Results vary by region and are primarily driven by the currently confirmed or expected reopening dates for exhibitions.

“The data from almost 500 leading exhibition companies around the world shows that our industry’s recovery had begun already, with solid expectations of year-on-year growth for 2021 almost everywhere. Only a fraction of shows are still planned as online-only while it is interesting to compare the splits between hybrid and on-site between the markets,” Kai Hattendorf, UFI Managing Director and CEO, said.

Digging even further into the data, the Barometer reveals that of all the 28 markets that UFI examines, U.S. industry colleagues are the most optimistic, with the vast majority expecting mainly normal industry operations in the fourth quarter. “Like everywhere, the need to list current travel restrictions is top-of-mind for a successful reopening internationally, and we call on the U.S. government to re-open the U.S. borders to business travelers from across Europe – just like we call on China to do so likewise. Our data also shows that our industry’s advocacy work through the ECA and other channels has been somewhat successful, with around 70% of participating companies reporting that they benefitted from some form of public financial support,”  Hattendorf added.

Reopening Has Begun

While many industries reopened in June, most companies expect both local and national exhibitions to resume in the next year and international exhibitions to come back online in the first half of 2022.

The lifting of current travel restrictions is making the most significant impact on the bounce back of exhibitions, with 71% saying this would help the most. The readiness of exhibiting companies and visitors to participate again was cited by 58%, and the lifting of current public policies was mentioned by 55% as key drivers.

Other findings include the fact that 48% of companies have benefitted from some level of public financial support, and for the majority, this represents less than 10% of their overall 2019 costs.

Disconcerting findings include 57% of companies have had to reduce their workforce, and over half of these have made reductions of more than 25%. In addition, 10% of companies state they will have to permanently close if there is no business for the next six months.

Not surprising, similar to the last Barometer released six months ago, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on business and the state of the economy are the two most pressing business issues. Others include global economic developments, the impact of digitization, and internal management challenges.

Fifty-eight percent of respondents report they have added digital services/products, including apps, digital advertising and digital signage to their existing exhibition offerings. In addition, 40% have developed a digital transformation strategy for individual exhibitions or products.

Related. UFI Reports Staggering Industry Losses in 2020

 In terms of future exhibition formats, global results indicate that 78%, up from 64% six months ago, and 57% 12 months ago, of respondents are confident that what the industry experienced during COVID-19 confirms the value of face-to-face events, anticipating that the sector will bounce back quickly.

“The Barometer results confirm the severe impact of the pandemic on our industry. But as most markets have reopened or know when they most likely will reopen, the bounce back is on its way and the sector is confident that COVID-19 will have reinforced the value of physical events while also pushing the development of new digital products and services,” Hattendorf said.

The 27th Global Barometer survey, conducted in June 2021, provides insights from 474 companies, covering 64 countries and regions, and was conducted in collaboration with 20 UFI member associations.

In line with UFI’s objective to provide vital data and best practices to the entire exhibition industry, the full results can be downloaded at www.ufi.org/research

Reach Kai Hattendorf at +40 171 5441198 or kh@ufi.org