Blogger: Kai Hattendorf, UFI Managing Director

The start of the year is always a good time to look ahead. Here is a brief look at five trends affecting our industry – trends that we at UFI believe will be discussed and debated in 2016:

The state of the global economy
This, of course, always belongs on such a list. Our latest UFI Global Barometer shows a mixed outlook for the exhibition industry. The barometer, based on a survey sent to leading organisers worldwide, shows positive turnover expectations in 2016 for the large majority of companies in North America and Europe – with the notable exception of Russia.
In Asia-Pacific, the Middle East and Africa the situation remains generally positive, but with a greater degree of uncertainty. In Central and South America, half of companies surveyed are expecting decreases in turnover, but respondents in Brazil expect an improvement in the second half of 2016. In terms of operating profits, between 30% and 40% of those surveyed expect that their profits in 2015 have risen by more than 10%; even more so in the US and the Middle East, but lower levels are anticipated in Brazil and Russia.

Venue and event security
The recent string of attacks on civilians by terror groups in Europe, the Middle East and Asia combined with the ongoing European refugee crisis has led to increased security levels at many airports and cities around the world. Passport controls are being re-established and visa applications are taking longer. This will have an impact on some trade shows as global industries are relying on international participation to grow their businesses.
Recently at a conference in China where many Chinese venues were presenting themselves to organisers, venue security measures were commonly cited as a key selling point. For many venues, it may become a necessity to deliver an increased level of security in these less secure times.

O2O – Online to offline
The digital world continues to make headlines in our industry, with increasing cooperation between online platforms and
organisers. Interestingly, this is happening in China first, as three announcements were made in recent weeks with the
Alibaba Group at the centre of it all. Alibaba has partnered with UBM to evolve joint offers for show exhibitors and
teamed up with Messe Berlin to launch an electronics show in Shenzhen which aims to rival the industry leading event, CES in Las Vegas. Finally, last week, Alibaba announced that the group would partner with Hannover Milano Fairs to provide credit services to exhibitors in China. Expect more developments like this throughout 2016 as the digital transformation of our industry picks up speed – not just in China, but in exhibition markets around the world.

Developments in China
These digital collaborations come just a few months after the Chinese Government published plans to reform the Chinese
exhibition industry. The mandate, issued by China’s powerful State Council, includes ambitious plans to help Chinese
organisers to grow and acquire businesses internationally with the aim of placing Chinese companies on the list of
global leaders in our industry. The State Council’s plan is to be implemented over the next five years, but the changes will
certainly begin to appear sooner than that.

At the same time, China is facing significant challenges such as the dilemma of venue overcapacity in some cities. Of course, this is not the case in China’s first tier exhibition cities – Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Beijing, and Shanghai – but many second and third tier cities now have venues that offer far more capacity than is required by current levels of demand.

On top of all this, Shanghai has published its own policy stating that it aims to become the “global capital city of exhibitions”. The city certainly has a reasonable chance of meeting that goal with two mega venues, SNIEC and the newly-built NECC. Shanghai now offers more than 800,000 square meters of exhibition space.

UFI members will have their own opportunity to see these developments first-hand this year at our next congress, in Shanghai from 9 – 12 November. Mark your calendars!

Venue investments

Shanghai offers a good example of our fifth and last trend: venue investments are increasing on a global level. To cite just a few recent developments: EMECA has reported that the major European venues will invest well over three billion euros into expanding and upgrading existing facilities. In the US, the Javits Center will increase its space for exhibitions and conventions by 50%.
New venues such as ICE in Jakarta and BITEC’s planned expansion in Bangkok are stimulating growth in key regional markets. Meanwhile in China, despite the overcapacity affecting some markets, venue projects have recently been undertaken in cities such as Shenzhen and Kunming to name just two.

The UFI team will track these trends throughout the year as we develop our regional events in the coming months. The 11th UFI Open Seminar in Asia, to be held in Chiang Mai later in February, will focus on digital disruption, and our Middle East-Africa Seminar in March in Beirut will focus on the changes in that region. Our team is busy working to ensure you can take away valuable insights at all of our event, and we look forward to welcoming many of you to Thailand later this month!