Trade Show Budget Will Return To Pre-Covid-19 In One Or Two Show Cycles


With over 32,000 shows worldwide in a normal year, UFI reports on Covid-19 damage being €158 billion and 1.9 million jobs directly affected in the industry with a loss of €260 billion non- generated business. Now there is a positive momentum with shows opening, more regional and smaller in size. On October 21st 2020, IELA, the International Exhibition Logistics Association, organised the IELA RELOAD Talk 2.3 BOLD LEADERS live session, inviting prominent Bold Leaders of the Exhibition Industry. The session was opened by IELA Executive Director, Elizabeth Niehaus, and IELA Chairman, Guido Fornelli, who welcomed and informed those present on the IELA RELOAD programme. IELA Committee Chairman & CMD R E Rogers India, Ravinder Sethi, welcomed the panellists individually and moderated the session.

Anbu Varathan, UFI President 2020-2021 & Bangalore International Exhibition Centre CEP, opened the session with the three words: Reopen: most countries are open or partially opened by December, Regain the lost ground collectively for organisers, venues, service providers, exhibitors and visitors and Rebounce facing the new now of the industry, adapting exhibition formats, surely with hybrid events. Anbu highlighted UFI findings ( that indicate that Covid-19 confirms the value of faceto- face events.

Experts were asked to present the situation in the industry worldwide. Kai Hattendorf, UFI CEO, set the pace at a macro level, sharing the results of UFI research with Explori and SISO, including: most exhibitors confirmed that their trade show budget will return to pre-covid19 in one or two show cycles and 53% said they will return to pre-covid19 expenditure for face-to-face events within 12 months. 2 out of 3 companies miss the opportunities to network and meet The concern about safety is the main bstacle, travel restrictions are rated as second and concerns about possible cancellations represent 34% of those asked.

Monica Lee-Müller, UFI Incoming President 2021-2022 & HKCEC Managing Director, explained that the KHCEC never closed during the pandemic, even with no events. With all events cancelled in July, August and September, events are back in Hong Kong since October 3rd. Two days ago, the government announced a travel bubble to be open between Singapore and Hong Kong, with pre-travel tests to be carried out.

The next speaker, Michael Duck, Executive Vice President Informa Markets in Asia & Group Chief Representative in China of Informa PLC, explained that Informa will have its first B to B show in 3 weeks’ time in Hong Kong. Only small B to C exhibitions have been taking place. Regionally it is still very difficult to travel, with two-week quarantines, both when arriving at a destination and returning to the country. The positive side is that China has been putting on shows for over 3 months, in Shanghai, Shenzhen, Guangzhou, Chengdu, for the domestic market and exhibitors with domestic visitors. In his overview, Michael stated that Japan has had some shows, predominantly in Yokohama, Osaka and Kyoto. Korea had some shows, stopped and started again last week. In Thailand, several domestic shows have recently taken place in both Bangkok exhibition centres but the political situation is also affecting exhibition activity. Singapore works very hard on looking at making things work but no exhibitions have started there yet. In Indonesia, there are many cases and no shows taking place, only small conferences. The Philippines is hit hard with Covid-19 and has no shows presently. Malaysia has had some small domestic shows coming back. In India, everybody wants it to work. The infection rate is lower and the country needs, as much as every country, cash flow and inter-business for the population’s mental health. “Testing, testing, testing is so important. We need quick tests” were Michael’s words when asked what are the priorities.

Klaus Dittrich, Messe München CEO, used to say “I believe in the future of trade shows” and now he knows Covid-19 has proven its worth. Everybody realised that digital meetings are not a substitute. Auma did a great job with the hygiene concept and Germany received the approval to restart the trade show business at the end of August. Successful and regional events were the starting point for creating hybrid events. Klaus showed concern for the beginning of 2021. As Germany is now facing new interregional regulations which creates a lot of uncertainty, even on the day of the session they had to cancel two more shows, having cancelled two shows at the beginning of 2021. Klaus is not so optimistic and personally does not foresee returning to pre-covid levels within the next 5 years. Many companies face going bankrupt, not only in the exhibition industry. China is the big hope but Klaus emphasises that China is not ahead. It is a big market which works domestically but China is not working internationally either. He suggested that we should consider the end of the concept of world leading trade shows, and maybe in the future we will have instead big regional trade shows.

Ian Hume, Messe Düsseldorf GmbH Director Logistics and Site Service, shared with us their Back To Business programme. Ian summed up Caravan Salon as proof that big shows are possible: 50% of exhibitors but 70% of total space booked, 40% of visitors (107.000) with restrictions of 20.000 visitors per day. Messe Düsseldorf also restarted Global-Regional, 3 trade shows in China and one in Russia, with regional success. Ian’s outlook for 2021 is that the first half of the year will remain difficult. Each exhibition remains an individual entity and is a lot of hard work. All eyes will remain on Interpack and Drupa. He commented “First half of 2021 will be very difficult, we will have to live with it until the vaccine comes and walk around it. We expect volume back up in the second half of the year”

Ravinder highlighted here two important points: Germany was the first country to advocate with the UE that exhibitions are organised gatherings and Germany categorises the visit to exhibitions as essential travel. Other countries like Italy are picking up on this.

Denis Steker, Koelnmesse Senior Vice President International, explained that their last physical event was actually in Sao Paulo and their first physical event with Covid was in July in Guangzhou, China, with the second show in Thailand. In Germany, they are positive about their first physical trade show in their venue next month. They are now very committed to start their international event portfolio, with IMN Cologne, even if they will be more regional. This is the future of the business to which we have to adapt.

Koelnmesse also gets active in the digital world, replacing 3 events in industries that have a higher affinity with digital solutions, like Gamescom and DMEXCO, digital marketing trade show. The participants confirmed however that they look forward to a physical event next year as it did not replace the physical event. Taking a global outlook, Chinese shows are working because they have a huge domestic potential audience. We also had Anuga Asia in Bangkok last month, with exhibitors from 13 countries and even 6 national pavilions, managed and staffed by the local chambers of commerce. Reference models like Caravan Salon, Bauma China and Anuga Asia are more regionally focused but show that exhibitions are possible. It is the way to reopen, regain and rebounce. “Physical events will soon see a revival due to rapid testing and vaccines with a more continental and national focus. These events will offer new digital features”.

The next contribution was from Douglas Emslie, Tarsus Group Managing Director, based in London, who told us what is happening in the UK. With no shows allowed in the next six months, Douglas sees the need to negotiate with the government to come up with a plan as they are letting other kinds of activities run and not exhibitions. Tarsus is a global business, running 180 shows with China and the US representing 70% of the business. They have run 7 shows in China in July/August, 3 of them with over a 100.000sqm. Domestic shows are coming back at 80% on average.

In the US, they are this week running their first event in Orlando. It is hybrid, with 2/3 physical and 1/3 virtual. Later this week, they are running their first event in Mexico. Another positive note was that Douglas explained that Tarsus is continuing with investments, making 2 acquisitions this week in America and in China. Douglas summarised the situation by saying that it is harder for the team to cancel events than organise them and that everyone is now concentrating on the positive side of operations for events. Douglas is more confident for the next months as testing will give us more confidence.

Rakesh Kumar, Export Promotion Council for Handicrafts Director General & India Exposition Mart Limited Chairman & Indian Exhibition Industry Association Advocacy Committee & Chairman, gave an insight on the situation in India. The exhibition industry in India was quite damaged. It is time to open again and India has be very transparent with covid-19 data with a robust medical system and a low fatality rate. During the entire pandemic, the Indian Exhibition Industry Association was highly recognised by the Indian Government which has accepted the proposed SOP, covering the responsibility of the 5 main verticals: venue owner, exhibition organiser, logistics and suppliers, visitors and exhibitors. Sensitive to the need for business to come back to normal, the government has been giving signals that travel restrictions will be reduced by mid-November which is the festive season.

The India Exposition Mart is back to being fully booked from December 9th 2020 to March 31st 2021. The Government gave the green light for B to B exhibitions to be held without any restrictions, but with the support of the government. India is not out of the covid-19 pandemic but Rakesh trusts that India will  He highlighted that the Indian Exhibition Industry has upgraded its technology during the pandemic but digital events are not the way to go. India is in a very initial stage with exhibitions compared to Europe. “The physical B to B exhibitions are here to stay with a few hybrid formats, all physical formats to come back next year. We need to look at technological expansion and make events more sustainable and profitable, to see India emerge as an industry power by the end of 2021”. Anbu Varathan confirmed that from an Indian perspective, there are positive signs such as the automotive sector is back to 80% of last year’s level, the Machine Tools Industry is seeing their clients restarting, as with the agricultural equipment sector & the infrastructure and construction industry. He stated “First half of 2012 will be all about vaccines, testing, reducing travel regulations and the second half will see a lot of opportunity and more efficiency”.

Sandy Angus, Angus Montgomery Chairman, explained that the UK was due to open on October 1st, but was postponed for 6 months. This had a massive impact on the UK exhibition industry mainly privately-owned, as 10-20% only are government- and authority-owned so the risk level is higher in the UK. Sandy stressed on the fact that the rescheduling of trade shows is having a massive impact on what is happening around the world and makes organisation really difficult. Competitive shows can be overlapping so a third rescheduling of dates might sometimes be necessary. As a private business, there is a limit to how long it can survive. If it takes much longer, Sandy stated that they will have to completely reorganise the 150-year-old business. Even if vaccines are expected by the end of the year, we all must learn to live with it and get tested when travelling so as to regain confidence. Contrary to Klaus and Denis, Sandy believes “it is going to be a much longer lead time before we get back to normal. We expect to be operating at 70%, at the very least, by the third quarter of 2021. We need a plan to survive in the future, either industry backed or government backed. This will give confidence to support exhibitions as a safe commitment”.

Ravinder Sethi concluded the session by thanking the speakers for their valuable input. He highlighted that there are many other Bold Leaders out there as every event professional is part of the ecosystem, from organiser to security staff.