Rebuilding the exhibition industry

A year ago, the prognosis was not looking so good. Event organisers scrambled to put together ‘virtual events’ in a desperate bid to claw back lost revenue. Some even wondered whether or not this would spell the death of the industry as a whole, as the global population grew increasingly used to Zoom calls and socially-distanced, smaller gatherings. Now, it is apparent that much of this damning prophecy was exaggerated. Between reports of ‘Zoom fatigue’ and the failure of large-scale virtual events, the restrictions of digital have been exposed, meaning that the events industry is under no real existential threat. Even the more traditional format of the exhibition, predicted by some to have no chance of survival, is returning with a vengeance, as the world realises that digital events simply don’t scratch our itch for human interaction.

A schedule full to bursting

Autumn Fair, MODA, Jewellery & Watch and Fashion, ABTT Theatre Show, PLASA, Blockchain Expo Global, Specialty & Fine Food, AI & Big Data Expo Global, International Confex and Cyber Security Global. This list contains some of the UK exhibitions scheduled for the first week of September alone. Had you checked the exhibition calendar a few months ago, you would have seen virtual dust-bunnies float across a wasteland of cancelled business. Now, you can barely contain the week’s events in a lengthy paragraph.

Cynical minds cast aside the exhibition industry’s prospect of survival at the start of the pandemic, claiming that business events were more easily transferrable to digital than social events, and stood no chance of making it through the coming months and years. But, just as Zoom calls were no substitute for social engagements, so too do business sectors prefer to meet face-to-face to discuss the most pressing issues facing their industry.

And it makes sense: if you are a top researcher or entrepreneur in AI and Big Data, will you really be content to address what are some of the most complex new issues in your field over a lagging video call? Is that platform truly sufficient as a medium of discussion for these highly-complex, intellectually demanding areas? For what are already dynamic fields of business, leading thinkers and executives cannot afford to sacrifice any degree of conversational fluidity. Exhibitions, and events in general, are time-restricted happenings, rare congregations of disparate entities that occur only a few times a year. As such, to make the most of these unions, attendees must opt for the easiest, smoothest, most direct means of interaction. And, in 2021, that is still – indisputably – live.

Where there’s smoke, there’s fire

I mean the good kind of fire — the kind that warms you up on a Winter’s eve, rather than burns down your house and possessions. With new business coming in, and an Autumn schedule filled to the brim, this means money coming in, breathing new life into a scuppered industry. Furlough schemes are ending, but the industry’s comeback has arrived just in time, creating more jobs for event workers and opportunities for business owners to re-hire those that had been let go. More jobs mean a healthier industry that can take more risks and create new opportunities.

What’s more, surviving and pulling through a pandemic that could not be better-suited to assassinating the business events industry will ensure the durability of the sector for many years to come. Confidence in exhibition contractors will bounce back, perhaps even higher than pre-pandemic levels, guaranteeing a steady influx of business for some time. Businesses will seize the opportunity to get back into the events circuit, seeing how well the industry is thriving and not wanting to miss out on potential business opportunities. It may rank among the worst, most overused clichés in human history, but ‘What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’ nonetheless holds true. If the virus couldn’t put the exhibition industry under,I can’t imagine what will.

With so many stops and starts over the past year, many of us are reluctant to announce the end of our woes and uncork the Champagne. But, if this progress continues into Autumn as scheduled, the business events industry will truly have cause for celebration. Alan Jenkins of exhibition contractor at UK-based Quadrant2Design comments, “There has been so much uncertainty, so much confusion over this past year, that many began to quietly question whether or not things would ever return to ‘normal’. Now, it seems those doubts are finally subsiding, and we can feel the confidence of a healthy market begin to re-emerge.”

If the pandemic has taught us one thing, it’s that we can never be truly certain what tomorrow holds, but for now, we can relax in the knowledge that the forecast for the near to mid future looks highly promising.

Theo Reilly is an independent writer and multilingual translator whose goal is to counteract stale writing in business blogs. Theo has particular interest in business and marketing-related matters surrounding the online world, web design, exhibitions and events.


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