Editorial: The growing localisation of trade fairs
We are almost in the fourth quarter of 2021 in the second year of the pandemic. What has changed so far in the German and international exhibition market worldwide, and what are the prospects for the future? These are the questions I hear almost every week through my social media channels or from friends. My answer to this is relatively simple.
In the 18 months of the pandemic, almost nothing has changed in the trade show market. The only thing that has changed—especially in Germany—is the urge to digitise faster. However, the first virtual and hybrid German trade shows have shown that one cannot make money with them so far, and only about 20%—25% of attendees are excited about them. Additionally, an average of 30% of employees of trade fair companies have been cut, short-time work is still prevalent, and many highly qualified and long-serving employees have left the business for reorientation.
Apart from digitisation measures and staff cutbacks, nothing new has emerged in almost two years except for cancelled or postponed shows. Personally, I do not think this approach will be enough in the long run. Much more could have been done in 2020 and 2021. The trade fair industries in China, the UK and the US show that local concepts can work perfectly. People need trade fairs to network, get to know each other and, most importantly, do business. This was under-estimated in Germany. Not only was the time span of the pandemic under-estimated but also its effect on customers. Many trade show organisers in Europe literally outbid each other at the end of 2020 and the beginning of 2021 for hybrid and virtual concepts. What is left is a virtual and hybrid exhibition market controlled by a few event technology companies, like Grip, Swapcard and Corussoft. Many exhibition companies even took the trouble to develop their own software and systems for a great deal of money—unfortunately almost certainly a bad investment. Event technology programmes are easily available off the shelf, and Messe München and Messe Düsseldorf are showing with Grip that it is very easy to use these without much programming and effort.
I would have liked to have seen every trade fair in Germany launching its own new concepts this year—local concepts that play a role for either the city or the region with a maximum radius of 500 km. Looking at the Chinese or US market, one can see that the local and regional component plays a much greater role than in Germany, which, for example, has only two medical technology trade fairs.
In the near future, I would like to see new trade shows coming on to the market—small and attractive. Organisers need to take a closer look at their city’s industries and attendees’ needs. It is clear that there will not be any decent big international trade shows until 2024. The speed of vaccination is too slow for that, and countries are too diverse to agree on global travel arrangements. Also 2022 will be a difficult year for our industry, as only vaccinated and recovered persons will have unrestricted access to events and only business-to-business travel will be allowed within Europe. In the past, Chinese pavilions took up over 30% of exhibition space at some trade shows, and other Asian countries and the US are very important trade show participants in Germany. This will probably not happen again until the end of 2023. Thus, optimistically speaking, the next “normal” trade fair year will commence in 2024. Until then, organisers should not let the time pass! Think local, create great trade fairs and don’t invest too much money into digitisation and certainly not into your own programming.