5 Industry Trends to Watch In 2021

December 8, 2020

We are in unchartered territory with a global pandemic disrupting lives and livelihoods. But, with successful trials paving the way for mass vaccinations, with better knowledge around COVID-19 and faster and more efficient testing schemes available, we are finding ways to live with and ultimately manage this virus. The tide is turning.

As we head towards 2021, the UFI team has – as we have every year – put together five trends that we believe will drive our industry’s development over the next 12–18 months. As always, these are based on conversations with and insights from our global UFI community as well as other stakeholders.

The threat will fade

First and foremost: This, too, will pass. The pandemic will end over time, even if the virus stays. Business will return, and life will return to more normality. The marketplaces and meeting places that we build and operate as an industry will be key for economic recovery, and a growing number of governments are understanding that. Think Australia with government funding. Think Germany, separating trade shows from mass gatherings and declaring that attending a show is essential travel. Think Singapore, actively exploring the opportunities to benefit from the resurgence of the business events sector. If we, as the exhibition industry and as the bigger business events community stay united, continuing to speak to authorities and governments with one voice, other governments will follow.

We will bounce back

We will see our sector grow again in 2021. And in 2022, 2023 and beyond. Part of that is simply math as we have lost an estimated 70 percent of revenues globally in 2020 year-on-year. Some markets will bounce back fast, others will need more time. But we know, both from our global research and from the ground in markets like China, that companies are eager to return to the trade show floor.

Global media takes note, as for instance, the New York Times writes that: “For small and midsize companies, (trade shows) are a window on the world.” Travel restrictions and complexities will mean that initially, national and regional shows will drive this recovery. Products and brands will more easily travel long haul than visitors. Global shows will “glocalize.” And, of course, we will safely run shows with COVID protocols in place.

Back to basics – focusing on the "trade" in trade show

The next 12–18 months will be about the “trade” in “trade show.” It will be about buyers meeting sellers to do business. It will be about getting back to face-to-face and onsite after screen to screen/online. People and businesses will need to re-connect to re-charge their business relationships that are being kept alive through lockdowns and restrictions thanks to digital and online events. Trade show budgets will return – business events are and remain by far the most relevant marketing channel for small and medium enterprises, and they make up the vast majority of our industry’s customers.

Digital is everyone’s challenge

The most discussed topic in 2021 might well be the future role of digital exhibitions and trade shows. The generic “hybridization” discussion we have had in 2020 will evolve and become more specific. The pressure is on – everywhere. Organizers need to apply the high-speed learning curve that the industry is forced through during the pandemic. Our colleagues on the event tech and digital side will need to deepen their understanding of the face-to-face ecosystem that we all operate in. Let’s please, finally, put the “virtual trade show” behind us! At its worst, a “hybrid” exhibition multiplies complexities and minimizes the financial result. At its best, it can expand reach significantly by creating year-round marketplaces. However, we have a long way to go before we can realize that potential.

The people make it happen

Right now, we are all suffering, and far too many talented event professionals have found themselves furloughed or out of a job. Big corporates are looking at event professionals and will begin to hire them as their own corporate meeting cultures evolve. Keeping people connected in these changing times will be a challenge, so industry community groups such as the Exhibition Think Tank Club will be powerful and important platforms for our industry. At the same time, COVID-19 has highlighted the importance of physical meetings. As a result, events will become an even more attractive industry to join. We have always attracted talent from very diverse backgrounds – be it by profession, race, nationality, gender or skillset. This diversity has always made our industry stronger and that will continue to be the case in the post-COVID world.

Don’t miss any event-related news: Sign up for our weekly e-newsletter HERE and engage with us on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram!

Add new comment

Partner Voices
Overview: The award-winning Orange County Convention Center (OCCC) goes the extra mile to make every day extraordinary by offering customer service excellence and industry-leading partnerships. From their dedicated in-house Rigging team to their robust Exhibitor Services, The Center of Hospitality brings your imagination to life by helping you host unforgettable meetings and events. With more than 2 million square feet of exhibit space, world-class services and a dream destination, we are committed to making even the most ambitious conventions a reality. In October 2023, the Orange County Board of County Commissioners voted to approve allocating Tourist Development Tax funding for the $560 million Phase 5A completion of the OCCC. The Convention Way Grand Concourse project will include enhancements to the North-South Building, featuring an additional 60,000 square feet of meeting space, an 80,000- square-foot ballroom and new entry to the North-South Building along Convention Way. “We are thrilled to begin work on completing our North-South Building which will allow us to meet the growing needs of our clients,” said OCCC Executive Director Mark Tester. “As an economic driver for the community, this project will provide the Center with connectivity and meeting space to host more events and continue to infuse the local economy with new money and expanding business opportunities.” Amenities: The Center of Hospitality goes above and beyond by offering world-class customer service and industry-leading partnerships. From the largest convention center Wi-Fi network to custom LAN/WAN design, the Center takes pride in enhancing exhibitor and customer experience.  The OCCC is the exclusive provider of electricity (24-hour power at no additional cost), aerial rigging and lighting, water, natural gas and propane, compressed air, and cable TV services. Convenience The Center is at the epicenter of the destination, with an abundance of hotels, restaurants, and attractions within walking distance. Pedestrian bridges connect both buildings to more than 5,200 rooms and is within a 15-minute drive from the Orlando International Airport. The convenience of the location goes hand-in-hand with top notch service to help meet an event’s every need. Gold Key Members The OCCC’s Gold Key Members represent the best of the best when it comes to exceptional service and exclusive benefits for clients, exhibitors and guests. The Center’s Gold Key memberships with Universal Orlando Resort, SeaWorld Orlando and Walt Disney World greatly enhance meeting planner and attendee experiences offering world-renowned venues, immersive experiences and creative resources for their events. OCCC Events: This fiscal year, the OCCC is projected to host 168 events, 1.7 million attendees, and $2.9 billion in economic impact.  The Center’s top five events during their 2022-2023 fiscal year included:  AAU Jr. National Volleyball Championships 2023 200,000 Attendees $257 Million in Economic Impact MEGACON 2023 160,000 Attendees $205 Million in Economic Impact Open Championship Series 2023 69,500 Attendees $89 Million in Economic Impact Sunshine Classic 2023 42,000 Attendees $54 Million in Economic Impact Premiere Orlando 2023 42,000 Attendees $108 Million in Economic Impact