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Latest Worldwide Exhibition Report: Optimism Mixed with Concerns

While Covid is no longer the top problem for most global trade shows, other big issues have shot up the list of challenges.

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 the impact of Covid is fading as a primary challenge for in-person shows. Instead, staffing has become the most-pressing issue as Q3 and Q4 business demand is expected to reach 2019 levels for 70 percent of firms—though 25 percent of firms still anticipate a net operating loss for 2022.

In UFI’s latest Global Exhibition Barometer, comprising responses from 366 firms around the world, just 11 percent said Covid was presently their top challenge, down from 19 percent in the previous GEB conducted in January 2022. In fact, travel hesitation due to Covid has shrunk such that exhibition organizers expect to earn revenues in the first half of 2023 equal to 87 percent of 2019’s first half. Of the 57 countries represented in the survey, only Hong Kong, mainland China, and South Africa had firms expecting to earn less than 75 percent of H1 2019 revenues in H1 2023.

Among the most pressing issues for show managers right now are lifting of travel restrictions across borders and building financial-incentive packages aimed at exhibitors. But at the very top of the list is finding enough competent employees to properly service exhibitions.
According to the survey, 69 percent of companies are actively recruiting, with 62 percent having difficulty with sourcing the appropriate candidates.

Another significant management challenge—and one directly related to proper staffing—is digitization. Specifically, 65 percent of respondents said they are adding electronic services and products such as apps, digital advertising, and digital signage to their existing exhibition offerings. Additionally, 49 percent of global respondents indicated they have digitized their internal processes and workflows, with that figure notably higher in the U.S. and Europe. And 32 percent of respondents said they have developed an overarching digital or transformation strategy for their exhibitions and products.

The next UFI Global Exhibition Barometer survey will be conducted in December 2022.

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