Charting the trends – in the event space, demand has returned to pre-pandemic levels for both exhibitors and visitors with the impact on spend far less severe than feared

21 October, 2021

The events industry - like so many others - was hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic and has heavily affected the proposed itineraries of corporate travellers over the past 18 months. The meetings and events industry is the basis for a high proportion of business travel trips and the move to virtual events and the slow return of in-person activity means it continues to influence corporate travel decisions.

But that impact may remain only short-lived, according to latest research from UFI, the global association of the exhibition industry. In the release of the third part of its Global Recovery Insights 2021 report, conducted by live events research specialists, Explori, and supported by SISO, the Society for Independent Show Organizers, it reveals that demand appears to have already returned to pre-pandemic levels for both exhibitors and visitors.

This latest in the Global Recovery Insights series of quantitative global survey of trade show visitors and exhibitors, the research was carried out in the summer of 2021, collectively gaining 15,000 responses in 10 languages, representing trade show participation in over 30 countries.

"The report gives plenty of reasons for optimism, including quelling doubts about a possible shift away from live events and indicating which shows are likely to bounce back quickly," says Kai Hattendorf, CEO of UFI. "At a time where physical trade shows are restarting around the world, we hope that these findings will help the industry to a fast recovery and beyond."

The study found that demand has returned to pre-pandemic levels for both exhibitors and visitors, with no signs of a fundamental shift away from in-person trade shows as a channel. Around three-quarters (72%) of existing visitors said they planned to attend trade shows with the same or increased frequency in future, with approaching two-thirds (62%) of exhibitors reporting the same intention.

The findings also suggest that the impact of the pandemic on spend has been far less severe than feared with almost half (45%) of exhibitors expecting budgets to return to normal within 12 months.

In previous studies, exhibitors have used visitor numbers as a deciding factor, but this appears to have shifted with 86% of exhibitors stating visitor quality is a large influence on their decision to invest in a show against 67% citing visitor numbers. Where exhibitors are looking to make savings, high quality shows appear protected, with exhibitors using their previous positive experiences to inform their decisions.

The data proves that face-to-face remains the preferred channel for networking and overall experience. Exhibitors are not diverting significant percentages of the budget to digital, although it is seen as a way to test new events and has the potential to deliver content and widen audiences.

A new group was surveyed for the first time in this research which was strikingly more likely to convert from digital participation to in-person participation than either current visitors or exhibitors. Made up of senior marketing decision makers based in the US or UK who had not used trade shows as a marketing channel prior to the pandemic, this group expect digital events to remain part of their marketing mix, and intend to become exhibitors at the live editions, suggesting that the digital events that arose during the pandemic have attracted new audiences.

They say 'a picture paints a thousand words'. In this regular section CTC - Corporate Travel Community offers an illustrative insight into a key industry observation or trend, this week highlighting an infographic of some of the key findings from this latest part of UFI's Global Recovery Insights 2021 report.

This regular section also now incorporates and expands on the charts produced in the 2020 air capacity series 'Coronavirus Statistics Snapshot'. These are based on an analysis of OAG schedule data and include a weekly look at how the pandemic is impacting global flight levels in the world's largest markets; a week-on-week and year-on-year comparison of flight departures by geographical region and a look at how weekly capacity is trending: the latter comparing levels to 2020 and also to the 2019 baseline performance.

HEADLINE FIGURES FOR WEEK COMMENCING 18-Oct-2021:

Departure frequencies down -0.09% versus last week; up+35.96% versus 2020 and down -27.89% versus 2019.

Seat capacity down -0.24% versus last week; up +39.69% versus 2020 and down -28.85% versus 2019.

CHART: Week-on-week change in flight departures by region

CHART: Year-on-year weekly departures performance for world's top 30 markets versus 2019

CHART: Year-on-year weekly departures performance for world's top 30 markets versus 2020

CHART: Departure capacity trends with year-on-year performance

CHART: Departure capacity trends versus 2019

CHART: The world's biggest aviation markets by departure seats