When the IAA kicks off in Munich on Tuesday, normalcy will finally return to normal in the trade fair industry. For a year and a half, halls and grounds were closed due to the pandemic, both in Germany and in many other countries. It was a blow to the industrial sector: short-time working was necessary, as well as a huge drop in sales, which had to be reduced with the financial assistance of the jackpots.
During this time the industry has changed and has had to change everywhere. Depending on the country, there were and still are different infection protection and travel regulations, and different Corona regulations depending on the federal state. The show organizers therefore canceled their events, postponed them against rotation or put them online. The biggest and most important mobile communications fair Mobile World Congress in Barcelona was canceled in 2020 and was held later and smaller at the end of June this year – too many attendees had canceled.
Around the world, salon companies have received financial injections from the public sector, which, however, corresponded to less than ten percent of their sales in 2019. This is the result of a survey carried out in June by the World Trade Fair UFI association with 474 companies. A tenth of those polled even said they would have to close if no salon activity was possible in the second half of the year. So we are very happy that it did not happen like that. In recent weeks, the first face-to-face fairs have again taken place. International trade fair calendars are full and companies are hoping for stable activity in the years to come.
60% of exhibitors come from abroad
There is a consensus in the industry that by 2024/2025 2019 sales will be reached or even exceeded, said UFI boss Kai Hattendorf. As to the “how”, however, there are some differences. China, the United States and Germany are the largest exhibition markets in the world. Americans and Chinese benefit from their huge home markets: around 80 percent of exhibitors come from their own countries. It’s different in Germany, where 60% of exhibitors come from abroad, especially from Asia. “It’s a unique position in the market,” says Hattendorf. “The recovery of the German trade fair market depends on the travel options of others.”
This raises the question of whether some businesses that have been rocked by the lockdown will not have their own booths in the future. So far, exhibitors have spent around ten billion euros per year to participate in trade fairs. Half continued to rent and set up the stand, just under a quarter on business trips. In addition, the industry strives for more sustainability – less waste, restoration of the respective region, environmentally friendly materials.
However, many exhibitors and trade visitors see events as an opportunity to reduce their CO₂ footprint: At a trade fair, all contacts are under one roof, you don’t have to go to each potential business partner individually. . Additionally, there have been positive experiences with online events. But overall, enthusiasm is limited. The UFI surveyed 9,000 exhibitors and visitors. They say they can network better, do business, find new suppliers, and get inspired at live events. 80 percent of those surveyed also felt that the overall experience of a salon visit was more interesting if they were physically at the site.
Digital offers are only attractive to a limited extent
A digital offer is therefore only interesting for events that include a large number of conference parts with discussion groups and conferences. Entrepreneurs and interested people who are unfamiliar with a certain salon concept also like to orient themselves virtually first. For the organizers of the show, this means: it will not work without an analog program, but it also will not work without a digital extension.
One trend that has been exacerbated by the pandemic is what experts call “glocalization”: the regionalization of major trade shows. The Bauma construction machinery fair is already taking place not only in Munich, but also in Shanghai, Delhi, Moscow and Johannesburg. This is “a good example of how a strong brand can become a family of events,” says UFI Managing Director Hattendorf. So, if nothing works in their own country, the exhibition companies always generate overseas sales.
Overall, however, there was a lot of movement in the industry even before the pandemic, such as when large companies preferred to invite to their own events instead of standing next to the competition. Associations and trade fair organizers took advantage of the break and asked members and customers about their experiences and wishes. The reboot this fall will show what you can do with it – and how it will be received by everyone. It has not yet been decided when this will translate into lower prices for customers as well.