How Has Covid-19 Affected Trade Show Exhibiting? [2022 Report]
Covid-19 has had an impact on every aspect of our personal and professional lives in the past few years, and trade shows are no different.
The industry saw a huge downturn in the pandemic, with the close contact requirements of attending events running contrary to public health guidance. According to the UFI (The Global Association of the Exhibition Industry), the global exhibition industry contracted by 68% in 2020, which meant $330 billion in missed trade between exhibitors.
But, how do exhibitors feel now (January 2022), with events returning to relative normality? Following on from our original trade show trends report in 2017, we surveyed some regular exhibitors to find out their thoughts:
Exhibitors Prefer In-Person Exhibiting to Virtual Events
With Covid-19 making it impossible for many trade shows to go ahead, many event organisers switched to virtual events to fill the void.
These online shows allowed vendors to showcase their products or services and interact with attendees online. Due to the ongoing uncertainty surrounding the pandemic, many event organisers have decided to continue with this online model instead of in-person events.
However, despite this shift it seems that the desire for face-to-fact contact is still irreplaceable, with 95% of regular exhibitors preferring in-person to virtual events.
It’s clear that the best way for exhibitors to showcase their products and services remains in-person events. This could be due to the ability for exhibitors to connect on a more personal level with attendees, as well as for visitors to see products ‘in the flesh’.
Businesses Plan to Exhibit More at Trade Shows in 2022
With almost two years of disruption to trade shows around the world, many businesses that rely on trade show for leads will have been negatively impacted.
We asked regular exhibitors whether the disruption caused by Covid-19 had led to them changing their trade show strategy compared to pre-pandemic.
As you can see in the results, the majority of respondents (59%) plan to exhibit at more trade shows compared to pre Covid-19.
This shows that the importance of in-person business networking remains strong despite the challenges of the pandemic and shift to more online business.
31% of respondents planned to exhibit at less trade shows than before the pandemic and 9% no longer planned to exhibit at trade shows.
This shows that whilst many exhibitors are keen to ‘get back on the road’ so to speak, a relatively high number have decided to abandon trade show exhibiting all-together. This could be because they have shifted more to online marketing during the pandemic or other changes in business practice.
New Covid Safety Measures Required for Events
Although many people will be missing trade shows, others may feel apprehensive about being in close contact with so many people due to the risks of Covid-19.
We asked regular exhibitors what, if any, safety measures they would like to see at trade shows in the future, and got the following responses in order of popularity:
85% wanted hand sanitiser
50% wanted mask wearing
42% wanted social distancing
19% wanted no safety restrictions at all
16% wanted Perspex screens
It’s clear that both event organisers and exhibitors need to consider measures to increase the safety of in-person events. These measures should be well-publicised by organisers in order to encourage exhibitors to sign up as well as more visitors to attend.
Trade Show Exhibitors See a Reduction in New Business Caused by Trade Show Cancellations
The pausing of trade shows really is unprecedented, with in-person trade events going back for centuries pre-Covid.
So, how would businesses that use these channels for their marketing strategy be affected by so many events being cancelled?
Here’s what they said:
54% saw a reduction in new business
31% had difficulty in reaching new markets
26% had a reduction in brand recognition
14% found it difficult to keep up with market trends
Although many businesses rely more and more on online channels for marketing as well as market research, trade shows clearly still have value for exhibitors as shown by these negative effects during the pandemic.
Getting people in one industry together under one roof remains an excellent way to keep the conversation going.
Trade Shows Remain an Invaluable Marketing Strategy in 2022
Despite a seismic shift in many business practices caused by the pandemic, it seems that trade shows are here to stay.
With changes such as more businesses implementing a work from home policy and switching to online business practices, many wondered whether in-person events would also survive these seismic shifts.
However, our survey shows that in-person trade shows are still vitally important for many businesses:
65% of businesses said that in-person trade shows were an invaluable part of their marketing strategy.
However, 35% of respondents said that in-person trade shows needed to change to stay relevant.
0% of respondents said that in person trade shows were no longer relevant.
It’s clear that trade shows have not seen a reduction in popularity as forecasted by many during the pandemic and that they remain a pillar in many businesses marketing approach.
That said, as shown by the number of respondents declaring trade shows need to change, it’s clearly important they find ways to adapt to new business practices and opinions.
Trade show organisers could look at improvements such as decreasing exhibiting costs; making transport and setup at the venue easier; improving their environmental credentials; adding Covid-19 safety measures; as well as implementing some of the online elements of virtual events to maintain their relevance in 2022 and beyond.
Exhibitors Remain Positive About Benefits of Trade Shows Despite Covid-19
It’s clear that the pandemic has changed many business practices, including the growth in the ecommerce sector as well as popularising remote working.
Some people have suggested that these changes may translate into a negative impact on in-person trade shows, with many event organisers setting up virtual events when Covid restrictions applied.
However, it’s clear from the survey results that, for exhibitors at least, trade shows remain vitally important to marketing strategy, with the loss of their many benefits being felt when they were cancelled during Covid-19.
Whilst it’s clear that trade shows need to adapt to stay relevant, it’s clear that they still have a part to play for many businesses looking to attract new customers and break into new markets.