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Latest “Barometer” Report: Recovery of Exhibitions Is Accelerating

Most responding show managers say that mid-2022 will finally see their firms back at normal operational capacity, but a few factors are slowing the return to previous levels of attendance and revenue.

In a large survey of managers and executives at consumer- and trade-show companies around the world, the global association of the exhibition industry known as UFI found that 2022 show revenues are expected to come in at 71 percent of the revenues generated in 2019. For U.S. shows, the projected figure is 84 percent. By comparison, 2021 revenues—which came in large part from online replacements of in-person events—were just 41 percent of the revenues generated by exhibitions in 2019.

Other promising news is that more than 60 percent of respondents expect their companies to be at “normal operational activity” sometime in Q2 2022. But this comes with a caveat: 70 percent say that the lifting of Covid-related travel restrictions is the most essential factor for returning to normal operations.

The semi-annual survey, called UFI’s Global Exhibition Barometer, received responses from managers and executives at 401 exhibition companies in more than 20 nations; they answered the survey questions in December 2021 and January 2022.

Internal Challenges Rival External Ones in 2022
Besides pandemic-related travel restrictions, there are two other notable issues that worry exhibition organizers as they try to get back to pre-pandemic levels of business. They are internal management challenges (19 percent cited this factor versus just 9 percent in mid-2021) and the impact of digitalization (16 percent cited this compared to 10 percent six months ago).

Specifically, the three factors that UFI listed under “internal management challenges” are of almost equal concern to respondents: Human resources/personnel issues (56 percent), business-model adjustments (54 percent), and finance issues (48 percent).

Further, as the exhibition industry seeks to pull out of its unprecedented funk, there are strong hints that technology could stunt a recovery of in-person show attendance to pre-pandemic levels. For example, 73 percent of respondents agreed that “there is a push towards hybrid events, and more digital elements for events,” while 44 percent believe that “there will be fewer international ‘physical’ exhibitions and, overall, fewer participants at them.” Another 30 percent of respondents were not sure about whether there will be fewer shows and participants, while just 26 percent said they believe that the number of shows and their attendance numbers “will definitely return” to pre-pandemic levels.

Other notable findings around sustainability from the 401 exhibition leaders who responded:

• 66 percent said that the Net Zero Carbon Events initiative supported by the United Nations’ Framework Convention on Climate Change “is of key relevance to secure the future of the industry.” The nation with the smallest percentage of firms to agree with that statement, by far: Russia (27 percent). Turkey was next, at 44 percent.

• 91 percent said they themselves must work to reduce the environmental impact of the event components they control, while 89 percent said they must actively work with their clients, outside suppliers (destinations, hotels, production companies, F&B suppliers, transportation firms), and event participants to minimize environmental impact of all event components.

• 69 percent said that their company will “definitely or most probably achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.” However, just 50 percent of respondents from the United States said this.

The full report, featuring results broken out for each nation, can be found here.


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