As the battle with the COVID-19 pandemic now runs into months, there is a realisation that we have a battle on our hands that will last for a number of years. There is no exit in the traditional sense, we will need to live with and adapt to an environment which has this virus. New behaviours and habits are being formed that will be a permanent feature of our life. Trends that we have seen coming will now rapidly pick up momentum and shift the way we live and do business. There will be a new normal but we are still trying to understand what that will be! What does this mean for our industry going forward?

Face-to-face will remain a vital part of how we socialise and do business but it’s going to look different:

– Exhibitions are likely to kick off earlier in the east versus the west.

– In Europe, there are many events that have been deferred to the last 2 quarters. The chances of these running now must be viewed as slim, better to defer to 2021, stick to existing time slots and focus on delivering a compelling event next year. Trying to squeeze deferred events out of their normal cycle in an environment where, for regulatory and health reasons, travel is not going to be easy or even possible, will deliver suboptimal performances in the short-term and damage long-term prospects.

– There will need to be a clear and probably revolutionary approach to deposits to overcome the position of many companies, to sit on their hands and hold onto cash. Cash deposits for shows deferred from 2020 to 2021 are going to be difficult to retain and will place enormous pressure on organisers. Going forward, should we be looking at some form of escrow system that would give our customers the confidence that their money is safe? We have no ATOL in our industry.

– The industry must have a standard unified approach to hygiene and social distancing that would be in place for every event (this is already being worked on). Vital for giving nervous visitors the confidence to mingle with hundreds or thousands after a long spell in isolation. There will be a cost here and an impact on numbers of attendees at our events.

– What we have all experienced is going to have a material and long-term impact on our view of the need to travel. There are opinions that this will also apply to the office when so many have been able to work productively and happily from home. We must expect visitor numbers to decline in the short term and there is every chance they will never reach the norms that we have previously enjoyed. There is now a fundamental shift happening in the way we will communicate, socialise and do business, which will be irreversible.

– Our events reflect the industries we serve. Certain of those industries are experiencing shifts that will permanently reshape them. Any events associated with high street retailing, hospitality, and travel, for example, will need to be radically reengineered if they are to survive. Equally, there are a number of sectors such as medical, pharmaceutical, biotechnology communications, for example, which will experience significant benefit from all of this. Our portfolios will need to be reshaped for optimum performance in the future.

– Business travel has just undergone a paradigm shift. People WILL come to our events but only if they view them as must-attend. Given how many are currently working from home and will continue to do so will change the way they look at the the need to travel and particularly internationally. Given that recent UFI research identified a worrying ambivalence to the efficacy of events, this will only become more pronounced. We are likely to see smaller events, with perhaps an emphasis on regional and national, with the international events being most affected, certainly in the near-term. This will be influenced by governments’ needs in the future re insurance policies against international supply chain breakages, by building stronger local expertise and manufacturing capacity. We should also not ignore the hospitality/entertainment element of our events which will not function in the future as it has in the past.

– Once again, what we are currently experiencing is creating a material and long-term shift in business behaviour -not only the need to travel but also the way we interact and do business. Just as with retail, all of us will need an important online, as well as face-to-face, element to our business. We will need to be more regularly engaged with our customers with online offerings throughout the year to complement our face-to-face events. Those who don’t make the shift will struggle to survive. This will effect revenue sources and the margins overall but we will remain relevant. A lot has already been discussed about virtual events but the answer will be in a much broader and more comprehensive set of solutions, with content and education at the core.

– On the digital subject, communications have just shifted further online. How we go to market will need to reflect this. Our events will need to be compelling versus nice to attend. Delivering accurate and precise connections between buyer and seller will be viewed as a basic requirement by our customers. Data analytics and mining will underpin our ability to deliver.

– The shape and size of our events will be affected in the short-to-medium-term. The larger companies will be re-evaluating their need, smaller-to-medium size the cost effectiveness. We will need to relook at our pricing models, overall costs of exhibiting in a radical review of whether these old models which have survived albeit under pressure are now fit for purpose in the future. Companies re-evaluating the need for all their expensive office space will be running that same slide rule over our events. Coronavirus preys on people with existing conditions; how many events have existing conditions before the pandemic? The failure rate may be similar!

– In an industry that has just seen a flurry of high multiple deals in the last few years, this has just been recalibrated to more modest levels!

We should have confidence in the enduring need to meet face to face and therefore the future of our industry. However, our industry is going to look different and will need to act differently. Bold leadership in 2020 will determine the long-term health of our industry.