Mon. Jan 24th, 2022


“When the world stopped, you kept going.” The slogan will greet tens of thousands of contractors, traders and distributors of the construction industry who have paid up to $ 600 each to World of Concrete trade show this month in Las Vegas – unless the Omicron variant of coronavirus forces a last-minute cancellation.

How many corporate exhibitions themselves can keep going in the new year is once again in doubt. Just as business executives finally started grabbing their conference lanyards again after months of restrictions, the rapidly spreading Covid-19 strain caused another round of procrastination.

At ExCeL, a venue in East London, the education technology fair bed, gambling sector event ICE and spectacle exhibition 100% options – which were all supposed to be opportunities in their respective sectors early this year – was pushed back.

Some exhibitors, meanwhile, have withdrawn from shows still taking place. Amazon, Meta and Twitter are among several technology groups that have withdrawn their personal appearances at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), though organizers are determined to continue with the event, which will also begin this week in Las Vegas. Vegas.

After surviving previous coronavirus-induced restrictions and cancellations, hardened executives behind some of the world’s largest trade shows are trying to position their businesses to take advantage once the pandemic finally subsides.

“Effectively, we have been scheduling, rescheduling, negotiating, renegotiating every three months for almost two years,” said Stephen Carter, CEO of Informa, the world’s largest scholarship organizer.

“It was very demanding on our teams, and it was quite demanding for our relationships with venue partners and contractors.”

Nevertheless, he added: “Customers have remained very committed to participating – when they can.”

Carter is so confident in his prospects that he has identified events as one of Informa’s priority areas for expansion, in addition to academic publication.

This month, the FTSE 100 media company outlined plan to get rid of of a portfolio of data and consulting assets and niche publications valued at at least £ 1.7 billion, and to redeploy some of the funds in its event business.

Investors remain cautious. Shares in Informa are nearly 40 percent lower than they were at the beginning of 2020, while Paris-listed GL Events fell 25 percent over the same period and New York-listed Emerald Holding 62 percent.

Nevertheless, before the rise of Omicron, there were encouraging signs for the sector that Zoemoe delegates was eager to return.

Data from the Center for Exhibition Industry Research (CEIR) shows that cancellation rates among U.S. business-to-business exhibits improved from 98 percent in the second half of 2020 to 19 percent in the third quarter of 2021.

Despite a slow start to the year and persistent concerns about coronavirus, CEIR estimates that 15.3 million people attended such events in the U.S. in 2021 – more than double the previous year, though less than half of the pre- pandemic levels.

“Looking back, the model is strong,” said Paul Thandi, CEO of NEC Group, owner of the UK’s National Exhibition Center in Birmingham. Still, he added, since the spread of Omicron “exhibitors have become more risk-averse”.

“They are careful to spend thousands on plots, staff costs and other accessories,” he said.

An employee of the Frankfurt Book Fair works on bookshelves
The Frankfurt Book Fair. Trade shows forced to spend more on Covid-related measures such as disinfection and social distancing © Arne Dedert / AFP / Getty

Events that will take place at the NEC in the new year and that have been rescheduled include Lamma, an agricultural machinery show that is popular with farmers.

Despite the widespread cancellations, few major event organizers have encountered serious financial problems so far, in part because their parent companies have interests in other sectors that have not been so badly affected by the pandemic.

One exception is the Paris-based Comexposium, which has spent much of the past year on a “security procedure”, although it leaves this in October after shareholders injected € 110 million into the company.

Some other organizers asked shareholders for cash at the start of the pandemic, which helped them withstand the storm. Information £ 1 billion raised in a placement last year, equivalent to about 20 percent of its equity capital.

Leave schemes and other forms of state support were lifeline. In cases where authorities imposed restrictions to prevent events from continuing, insurance was also crucial, despite sometimes limited scope of coverage.

About £ 65m in insurance payouts helped Hyve, another London-listed event organizer, make a profit in the year to end-September.

Pressure on organizers’ cash flow was also less intense than it would otherwise have been, as exhibitors typically paid in advance, said Dan Assor, an event industry consultant.

He added that in certain ways subcontractors – often smaller companies that supply equipment from lighting systems to registration banks, as well as logistical support – were the hardest hit.

“The supply chain is decimated,” Assor said. “Many freelancers have disappeared.”

As in other coronavirus-disrupted industries, managers expect some changes to take a long time.

Hyve CEO Mark Shashoua said he expected a shake-up of smaller trade shows. Even before the pandemic, he said, there was an “attraction” to the biggest event in any given sector – a tendency for the pandemic to only accelerate.

“If the opportunity and the sector before Covid were at the top, it would recover very quickly,” he said. “If it was a second or third level show, it does not recover.”

Sarah Simon, analyst at Berenberg, predicts that the fragmented sector will consolidate. “In the short term, in certain markets, there is going to be continued disruption, which I think will wash out more of the weaknesses,” she said. “There are quite a few medium-sized assets out there that could be of interest.”

Bar graph of US statistics, base to 100 for 2019, showing how the pandemic wreaked havoc on the exhibition industry

Analysts have said that potential sellers could include the Daily Mail and General Trust, which, in addition to owning the UK’s largest sales daily under other titles, also has an event business.

Its portfolio includes ADIPEC, an energy industry exhibition hosted by Abu Dhabi National Oil Company. DMGT was recently taken privately by Lord Rothermere, who allegedly focused on the company’s publishing assets.

Companies like Informa also try to more fully exploit the data generated by such events. They have long encouraged delegates to use specialist applications, but recent health and safety requirements have made online registration mandatory in some cases. Organizers are trying to sell participants more related digital services, such as delegated matchmaking and post-event analysis.

But unlike conferences, or at least the discussions on stage that support it, trade shows can not be easily recreated online. It’s hard to feel the material, as at the Pure London fashion show, or to remotely gauge the prospects for emerging mobile technology, as at MWC Barcelona.

“You can not repeat face to face,” Assor said, adding that the shows had facilitated the trade since London’s 1851 Grand Exhibition.

Chris Skeith, chief executive of the UK Association of Event Organizers, said the pitch remained simple. “The clue is in the name,” he said. “They generate trade.”

“You keep your finger on the pulse of everything that happens in your sector – all your competitors, customers, suppliers are in one place at a time. It’s an incredibly efficient way of doing business. ”



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