Exhibitions update: A new year of growth potential

Despite the many bumps, knocks, and bruises the exhibitions sector has endured in the past two years, UFI’s Asia-Pacific regional director, Mark Cochrane, remains cautiously optimistic that 2022 will be the year in-person events will gain momentum.

How does recovery look like for the exhibitions sector for 2022 and how will Asia factor into this recovery?
Overall, we estimate that Asia recorded an unprecedented 63 per cent drop in net space sold in 2020 compared to 2019. Net space sold fell from the 24.5 million suqare metres recorded in 2019 down to 9.1 million suqare metres in 2020. Without China’s comparatively strong performance (down 53 per cent to 6.8 million suqare metres), the regional average would have been much worse.

Across the region, 2021 turned out to be a repeat of 2020 – a damaging year with limited attempts to return to the business of organising events. While 2022 will be a year of recovery for Asia, the path forward will be an uneven one.

It’s a good thing that the outlook for face-to-face events in Asia, and globally, is still very positive. This can be seen in markets that have allowed in-person events to resume. For example, from July 2020 to June 2021, domestic events in China roared back to life. We can expect the same all across the world as the pandemic recedes.

In general, factors affecting trade fair recovery in each Asian market will include the government approach to managing Covid (living with Covid versus Covid-zero), the geo-political landscape, the size of the domestic economy and domestic trade fair industry, the importance of international participation, and others.

Larger, more domestically-focused markets such as China, Japan and South Korea will be in a better position to rebound, when compared to internationally-driven markets such as Hong Kong, Singapore and to a lesser extent Thailand, Taiwan and Malaysia.

How has the pandemic changed a customer’s value and expectations of exhibitions?
In many ways, the pandemic has reinforced the value of in-person events. Few purely-digital events, if any, have satisfied stakeholders. Of course, event organisers will have to continue to innovate, improve and add value through events, but we are highly confident that business events of all kinds – will continue to meet and surpass the expectations of visitors and exhibitors in the post-pandemic years.

What trends do you foresee for exhibitions?
We expect to see the virus fade as a threat in the coming months as vaccine rates rise and treatments improve.

This will be followed by a strong bounce back for events in 2022 and even more so in 2023. Event organisers will focus on the getting the basics right, and making use of innovative digital tools to deliver value at in-person events. Companies will also be more willing to heighten their investment in people, as people help make events happen. We need good people with strong business events skills more than ever before.

We see a future full of change, potential and growth.

What bothers you most currently about the pandemic?
There are a few things. The slow rollout of vaccinations, travel restrictions, and perhaps most importantly, governments failing to understand that exhibitions are different from other mass gatherings and that we are key driver of economic recovery and growth. So at UFI, we are committed to mitigating these risks in everything we do.

What is UFI doing to get the exhibitions engine roaring once again?
A lot! That has been our core focus for the past 18 months. We are deeply involved in advocacy work – educating governments around the world on how and when to allow events to proceed.

We track the status of exhibition markets as they open worldwide. We share industry guidelines and best practices, and case studies and details of government support for exhibitions on a market-by-market basis. Our wide range of resources is available on UFI’s Coronavirus Resource Page, which is also available to the public.

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