Following the release of the Global Recovery Insights report, produced in partnership with UFI and supported by SISO, Explori global strategy director, Sophie Holt talks through some key findings.
When we first embarked on this project, I was apprehensive as to what we would find. At the end of 2019, we had produced the Global Exhibitor Insights, which made somewhat uncomfortable reading. It highlighted that exhibitors were beginning to have concerns about the ROI of live events and question the figures that organisers were publishing.
Add to that, the biggest disruption that many of us have ever experienced in our careers and it was possible that we were about to produce research that could spell dark times.
But as we analysed the results in late August, it became clear that there was much to be positive about. Not only were live events being sorely missed by both visitors and exhibitors, it seems that they have not found alternative channels that can replace the unique aspects of face-to-face networking.
Live events support business generation: Two-thirds of those who exhibit at trade shows reported their cancellation has had a notable detrimental impact on their business, reducing their ability to build awareness with their target markets. Half of companies reported that the absence of live events was negatively affecting their ability to generate new business.
What does the future look like?
Both visitors and exhibitors reported some drop in how frequently they planned to attend live events in future, compared to previous studies we have conducted. But when compared with data from 2019, the drop for exhibitors was very modest.
The more pronounced impact on visitor attendance is driven by short-term concerns, primarily around safety. Visitors who were planning to reduce their attendance need to be reassured that robust safety measures are in place. They are also more drawn to the option of being able to attend an event digitally, for the time being at least.
When will spend return?
Some 28% of exhibitors said their spend would return to pre-Covid levels as soon as live events were running again.
Only 13% felt the drop in spend could be permanent. On average, exhibitor spending could return to pre-Covid levels within 11 months. This held true across widely differing sectors and countries.
What is drawing audiences back to live?
Two-thirds of both visitors and exhibitors have experienced fewer networking opportunities whilst there have been no live events. This translated into fewer leads generated for businesses (48%) and ultimately lower sales (45%).
Digital events are not currently filling this gap, with “quality of networking” being the area they scored most poorly in comparison to live events, with only 8% of exhibitors feeling that digital could compete with live.
Reasons to attend
We wanted to know what factors organisers should prioritise to ensure their show was a “must attend”. Here our respondents were unequivocal. They will be evaluating shows based on the quality of the exhibitors and visitors. Exhibitors appreciate that visitor numbers may be restricted for a period of time, so they want to ensure that those they do meet are both relevant and purchase-ready.
For the first time, cost of attending has also emerged a decision factor for visitors, with 39% citing it as a priority.
This in part may be driven by pressure on travel budgets, but it can also be seen in the context of the availability of digital events, which visitors recognise can now provide them with high-quality content at a fraction of the cost of attending in person.
The full report is available for UFI members via ufi.org Other verified trade show organisers and venues can request a copy via explori.com.