UFI recently released the impact of COVID-19 on the 2020 global exhibition industry with its 26th Global Barometer. It may be summed up in one word: OUCH! By all accounts, 2020 was a painful year of severe contraction for the industry – down by 68% from 2019’s figures. As one could expect, profits were also down in 2020, ranging from 47% in the Asia-Pacific region and Europe, 50% in North America, to 58% in the Middle East & Africa, and 64% in Central and South America.

This latest 191 page edition of the Global Barometer was compiled based on data from 457 companies in 64 countries and regions and delivers outlooks and analysis for 24 countries and regions. In addition, it analyses five aggregated regional zones.

Estimates are 2.4 million full time (good paying) jobs have been affected, with 54% of respondents saying they had to reduce their workforce. If we add those companies receiving government support, the number goes up to 74% of all companies.

Besides the workforce, those taking the brunt of the lack of expos are SME’s who depend on exhibitions and trade shows for much of their annual business. The numbers include the effect on most countries and regions missing one of the prime drivers of industry, to the tune of over USD $370 billion.

That was then, this is now

The pandemic, rightly so, continues to be the biggest concern of respondents, followed by state of the home market economy, global economic developments, and down in fourth place is the impact of digitisation. Digitisation was only up 1% in interest since the last Global Barometer, six months ago. With so much ongoing, industry-wide discussions about digital, hybrid and their monetisation, I would expect the concern to be a higher percentage.

Looking to the future, companies are more hopeful, believing in the power of face-to-face, with 64% (compared to 57% six months ago) confident that “COVID-19 confirms the value of face- to-face events” anticipating that the sector will bounce back quickly, once we reopen. These positive numbers are even higher in the Middle East/Africa and Asia/Pacific regions.

According to the Global Barometer, “In all regions, a majority of companies expect both “local” and “national” exhibitions to open again by the end of June 2021 latest. But that is not expected until the second half of 2021 for international exhibitions. Company operations also include (for many companies while face-to-face events are not possible), working into the development of digital solutions.”

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