The Future of Exhibitions


Can you quickly introduce us to UFI?

UFI is the global trade association for the exhibition industry. So, all the for-profit and association trade show organizers, as well as the venue operators, investors, and the service partners of the industry, are our members. We are also the global umbrella hosting more than 60 national and regional exhibitions and business events.

How do you qualify as an exhibition and how does an event become a member of UFI?

We define an exhibition as a meeting of buyers and sellers and it happens 99% of the time in a physical space. So to become a UFI member as an organizer, you need to run an international trade show. If you are a venue, you need to host these events, & if you are a service provider you need to be one of those companies supporting that and that can be everything from stand building to digital platforms.

What if we fast forward 2, 5 or 10 years into the digitalization of events?

Whether it’s two, five or ten years into the future, the core of exhibitions and business events will be the physical space. The physical gathering of people. There will be more digital services around like if you go to a trade show floor nowadays, you bring your smartphone so you have a lot of digital interaction during your physical presence at the event. This will evolve as it did in the last 10 years and we believe that in the future, there will be a more omnichannel model evolving where organizers of trade shows are focusing on their customer groups.

It looked like the Middle East or Asia was kind of back into events a lot faster. Do you know why?

The pandemic started in Asia so their first wave was done earlier and they reopened earlier with measures in place. Now we’re at wave three four or five depending on how you count, and we’ve learned a lot as an industry and lots of governments have learned a lot about how to deal with a pandemic.

China was able to open early because they were very much in control. If you’re looking at the Middle East, we ran our first in-person event again in May in Dubai at the World Trade Center. This was possible due to their high vaccination rates and their ability to accommodate the safety of all attendees.

I want to share some insights about how much the industry lost with COVID and how fast it’s coming back. Could you share your comments on what you learned from 2020?

What we’re seeing is the economic impact and the damage the industry took now around the world in 2020. The revenue of our exhibitions and business events industry basically dropped by 70-75% year on year compared to 2019.

Compared to 2020, there is 165% growth in the events industry in 2021. A perfect point in time to look into this industry as a career opportunity. People want to meet and they want to meet in person. By 2024, events will reach the level of 2019 again but by next summer, the event industry is expected to pick up to normalcy with more physical events. However, there will be smaller events than we had before.

For the content side, online delivers, as many people have attended content-driven events. This has imbibed an interest in them which makes them eager to attend physical events. COVID has hence opened a new phase of attendees, which has increased drastically.

Check out the full video of the Future of Exhibitions talk with Kai Hattendorf.

The Future of Events — Are you in?
Join Ben Costantini at PIRATE Live 2021 for his track dedicated to the future of events with lots of amazing speakers.

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