CEIR Reports on Economic Impact of COVID-19 to U.S. Exhibition Industry

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The Center for Exhibition Industry Research (CEIR) released preliminary projections of the impact the COVID-19 pandemic will have on the U.S. business-to-business (B2B) exhibition industry in the coming months. These calculations were derived from cancellations reported to the organization by exhibition and event organizers. “We have been closely monitoring the progress of COVID-19 in anticipation of how it will impact our industry for weeks,” noted CEIR CEO Cathy Breden, CMP, CAE, CEM. “Data collection and analysis takes time and we are pleased to have enough information now to answer some of the questions we have been receiving.”

“This information is incredibly helpful for communicating to federal legislators the economic impact of the B2B exhibitions industry,” added 2020 Chairperson of the CEIR Board of Directors Carrie Ferenac. “The information is being shared with industry associations who are advocating on the importance of trade shows to the U.S. economy, and the tremendous negative impact COVID-19 has had on organizer companies, venues and service providers, and to the people they employ.” CEIR reports that there are about 9,400 B2B exhibitions held in the U.S. annually. The updated figure for the industry’s total impact on the U.S. GDP is $101 billion in 2019, up from $97 billion in 2018.

As of 15 March 2020, 50 B2B events have announced their cancellations. Notable events that have canceled include:

  • Inspired Home Show by the International Housewares Association (over 800,000 net square feet [NSF]);
  • HIMSS (Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society) Global Health Conference and Exhibition (over 600,000 NSF);
  • ASD (Affordable Shopping Destination) Market Week (about 600,000 NSF); and
  • Natural Products Expo West (nearly 600,000 NSF).

These 50 events amounted to a total loss of 5.2 million NSF and $318 million in show organizer revenue. Taking into account direct spending of exhibitors and attendees, the loss to the economy stands at $1.8 billion. New cancellation announcements are appearing daily, which is likely to increase with the recommendation made on 15 March 2020 by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to cancel events that will attract 50 or more people for the next eight weeks. Readers should also note that simply counting the announced cancellations published in media reports significantly underestimates the actual number of cancellations, since the cancellation of many small- to medium-sized events does not typically attract media attention. This is especially true for events held in hotels.

There are about 2,500 B2B events held between 1 March and 15 May each year. CEIR believes that about 50% to 80% of those events have already canceled or will likely cancel in the coming weeks. Based on the cancellations reported as of 15 March 2020, CEIR calculates this will result in a loss of 41 to 65 million NSF and $2.3 billion to $3.6 billion in show organizer revenue. Combined with direct spending by exhibitors and attendees, CEIR estimates the total loss to the economy to be $14 billion to $22 billion. “At this point, the decline in the exhibition industry is a one-off retraction of the industry’s size,” said CEIR Economist Allen Shaw, Ph.D., Chief Economist for Global Economic Consulting Associates, Inc. “Since this is a transitory event, we expect a full recovery for the exhibition industry in 2021.”