The Future of Trade Shows



James Patterson | OCO Global

Throughout 2020, most businesses have had to adapt their way of working one way or another, this is particularly true for trade and investment. With travel all but being wiped out, trade shows and exhibitions were massively impacted with hundreds of events either cancelled or postponed. However, some have now started going virtual to compliment the new way of working.

This is highlighted by looking more closely at trade shows in 2020, data from Expochecks* trade fair portal, highlights that 3,916 have been cancelled or postponed globally in 2020[1]. Drilling down by region:

  • Europe 57.1%
  • Asia 24.1%
  • North America 13.3%,
  • Africa 2.2%
  • South America 2.1%

With the second wave now in full swing, a large portion of those shows postponed to the final quarter of 2020, were also cancelled.


Staying virtual? Or a return to normality in 2021?

One solution to the pandemic we have seen in recent months is digital events. Messe Frankfurt –the world’s largest trade fair, congress and event organiser – which hosted 423 events globally in 2019, put on a number of virtual events in 2020. For example, Formnext, an additive manufacturing event, went entirely digital. The experience included an intelligent matchmaking function, which generated more than 450,000 product recommendations and enabled over 4,000 virtual business meetings. According to Messe Frankfurt CEO, Wolfgang Margin, it will likely be 2023 before revenue returns to the levels of 2019, and they will need to continue to enhance the virtual experience in the future.

There are some clear benefits of a virtual trade show in terms of digital innovation, cost savings and time efficiency. However, the relationships and trust that can be established through a face-to-face meeting is one clear downside. Data published by UFI** – The Global Association of the Exhibition Industry – stated most companies still expect a return to normality post-COVID, with signs that budgets will also be restored quickly. These findings were based the findings of 9,000 responses across 30 countries:

  • 53% of exhibitors expect their show investments to return to pre-COVID-19 levels within 12 months,
  • And 28% report that their investments will return as soon as trade shows start running again.

While there is appetite for digital events, it is unlikely to replace live events in the long term.


Looking to the future

Dubai Global Connect (DGC) is aiming to provide an alternative model, officially launching in early 2021, and will provide buyers and sellers a wholesale market with goods from all over the world.  DGC  will last all year round in one central location, for safe and easy trade, dedicated to the wholesale of food, furniture and fashion. It will also provide exhibitions and a B2B digital platform allowing sellers to showcase and sell goods online. Douraid Zaghouani, COO of ICD and Chairman of DGC, stated “this has been a long time in the making but is even more relevant and needed in today’s changed global trade environment. Establishing a controlled, permanent marketplace environment is perfectly timed as event producers and their attendees cope with reduced travel budgets and the need for smaller, more controlled gatherings.”

These changes in the way of working have led to the OCO VELOCITI team adapting the research produced. Normally to coincide with major trades shows, we provide insights into the top investors in attendance. With so many cancellations, this has left a gap in our research. We have supplemented this loss through the creation of our Top Target Lists, based on sector resilience and those we project to grow post crisis. For example, target lists have included, Agile companies, Fintech, Cyber Security and resilient start-ups.

With digital events becoming more accepted and the hopeful return to live events later in 2021, we feel the research on international trade shows will return to some sort of normality, having just completed a piece on the Consumer Electronics Show. Combined with our new target lists, we will effectively double the amount of research we provide to our clients for the year ahead.

To read the full blog post by OCO Global, please visit here