UFI Report Projects Growth for Trade Shows in 2021

February 2, 2021

A new report from UFI, the Global Association of the Exhibition Industry, predicts that a comeback is in the offing for trade shows.

Having polled 457 companies in 64 countries and 29 different regions, UFI lays claim to its research being the industry’s gold standard. Exhibitors as well as planners and organizers can only hope the association’s report is right on target.

According to the bi-annual UFI Global Barometer:

  • Industry revenues will double in 2021, compared to 2020
  • 64% of respondents say last year’s loss of events due to COVID-19 has only reinforced the importance of face-to-face gatherings
  • 57% of North American companies say virtual events will not replace in-person events.

 The news comes as the pandemic has kept trade shows on the sidelines while some convention centers and exhibit halls have been transformed into vaccination centers.

“This is the darkest hour before the dawn,” said Kai Hattendorf, UFI managing director and CEO. “This tunnel will end, driven by vaccination drives. We believe we are in for a busy year.”

Such positivity comes on the heels of a harsh winter to complete 2020’s challenges. The pandemic forced half of the companies UFI surveyed into silence between April and August. Moreover, 54% of companies in the survey said they cut workforce (half said by at least 25%) and 10% said they will close for good should events not get off the ground in the next six months.

A spike in COVID cases and cold weather have maintained the slide, though there are signs of life.

As some trade shows go on in-person, the number of organizations predicting activity to rise to near pre-pandemic levels hits 37%, compared to 10% in January.

The readiness of exhibition companies and attendees to participate in events and the lifting of current travel restrictions were, not surprisingly, listed as the top keys to resuming business as usual.

Hattendorf emphasized the importance of keeping events business afloat until the tide turns. “If we are able to run marketplaces, we need the industry’s ecosystem intact on the other side of COVID,” he said.

That “other side” looks to be the end of June or July, followed by a dramatic increase in industry movement this fall.

The prediction that revenues will double last year’s rate is particularly heartening, as the numbers suggest a building momentum for 2022 and 2023. And while virtual is here to stay, it’s not likely to replace face-to-face events, Hattendorf added. 

“We will ‘build back’ even better, and while the industry will remain, primarily, a face-to-face marketing channel, digital offers will evolve with new patterns,” he said.

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