UFI’s Latest Global Exhibition Barometer Report Brims with Good News

Kathy Monte, Senior Editor
UFI Barometer

PARIS – Trade shows and exhibitions are bouncing back after the pandemic shutdown, with revenues for the first half of 2023 expected to reach 87% of comparable 2019 levels. This is welcome news for the industry, with 2019 the banner year to date.

These are among the latest findings from the Global Exhibition Barometer research conducted by UFI, the Global Association of the Exhibition Industry.

The news gets better, with many countries performing well above average. In particular, 2022 revenues for the U.K. are at 89% of 2019 levels, Italy (86%), Saudi Arabia (85%), Turkey and South Korea (82%) and Japan at 80%.  For projected revenues for the first half of 2023, most markets expect to reach at least 75% of 2019 levels, with only Hong Kong (58%), China (69%) and South Africa (72%) forecasting lower levels.

“Globally, despite all the challenges, the recovery of our industry is progressing well. Notably, U.S. colleagues are the most optimistic, expecting to get really close again to pre-pandemic revenue levels in the first half of 2023. Despite travel disruptions, inflation and staffing challenges keeping us occupied around the clock, I am energized by this positive outlook for what lies ahead,” Kai Hattendorf, Managing Director and CEO of UFI, said.

Based on a global survey, this study concluded in June 2022 and represents current information on the development and outlook of the global exhibition industry in addition to 28 markets and regions.

Trade Show Industry Getting Back to Normal

Other highlights include global exhibition revenues forecast at 73% of pre-pandemic levels this year, and 70% of companies anticipate normal operating levels from September 2022.

Management challenges (such as staffing shortages) and digitization are the most pressing industry issues, with 69% of companies currently undergoing recruitment drives.

Regarding operations, roughly six in 10 companies are reporting “normal activity” — up from just three in 10 only six months ago. And by the end of the year, seven in 10 companies anticipate operating at normal levels, while roughly 5% of companies expect “no activity” from September 2022.

Related. UFI Global Barometer Report Shows Reasons for Optimism 

When asked to identify the most critical elements to support the “bounce-back” of exhibitions, six in 10 companies selected “lifting of current travel restrictions” and “readiness of exhibiting companies and visitors to participate again.” The following two most influential drivers are “financial incentive packages (leading to reduced costs for the exhibitors)” and “lifting of current public policies that apply locally to exhibitions,” mentioned by four in 10 and three in 10 companies, respectively.

Regarding 2022 operating profits, 25% of global companies expect a loss or a reduction of more than 50% compared to 2019. Overall, 73% of companies received no public financial support during the pandemic; for most of those that did, public financial aid represented less than 10% of their overall costs.

Post-Pandemic Challenges

The most pressing business issues reflect the industry’s focus on post-pandemic challenges and opportunities. “Internal management challenges” (highlighted by 20% of respondents), “impact of digitization” (17%) and “competition with other media” (15%) are most often cited. In comparison, the “impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the business” has dropped from the most pressing business issue to the sixth (from 19% to 11%) compared to the previous edition of the Barometer.

“The bounce-back of exhibitions around the world has entered its next phase, and pre-COVID levels will be within reach as early as next year in some markets,” Hattendorf said. “As the industry manages this amazing recovery, it is also dealing with significant staffing challenges and is working to apply key learning from the pandemic around the digitization of events and services into its business model.”

Spain, Turkey and the U.K. in Europe, Saudi Arabia and the UAE in the Middle East, and Australia and Brazil stand out as global markets where most companies returned to normal activity levels in early 2022. Still, the majority of markets reached this marker in March 2022. Notably, Asia only reached this point in May (with China not expecting to reach this point until October, and Hong Kong in 2023).

Globally, companies have on average seen a significant increase in their 2022 turnover, representing 73% of 2019 levels with a projected growth to 87%, using the same baseline for the first half of 2023.

The entire survey can be found  here.

Reach Kai Hattendorf at kh@ufi.org