Coronavirus-Related Exhibition Cancellations Will Cost Up to $22 Billion in Economic Impact

CEIR findings point to big losses due to cancelled trade shows, but Events Intelligence finds almost half have confirmed rescheduled dates within 2020.

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Updated March 25, 2020, 1:31pm EDT

The growing number of trade shows that have been cancelled due to the COVID-19 crisis will result in a loss to the economy of $14 billion to $22 billion, according to the Center for Exhibition Industry Research. The preliminary projection, based on cancellations reported to the organization by exhibition and event organizers, is but a subset of the overall losses expected by the travel and meetings industry.

CEIR estimates that between 50 and 80 percent of the 2,500 business-to-business events originally scheduled for the March 1 – May 15 time frame have already cancelled or will likely cancel in the coming weeks. The cancellations reported as of March 15 will result in a loss of 41 to 65 million net square feet (NSF) and $2.3 billion to $3.6 billion in show organizer revenue, according to CEIR. When combined with the loss of direct spending by exhibitors and attendees, CEIR estimates the total impact to the economy to be a loss of between $14 billion and $22 billion.

A separate tracking of COVID-19's impact on trade shows, conducted by analytics firm Events Intelligence, found that as of March 23, a quarter of the more than 1,400 trade-show organizers surveyed cancelled their main 2020 event, but nearly half (48 percent) have confirmed a new date for their show within 2020. More than a quarter (27 percent) have yet to report a decision.

"Of those shows which have rescheduled to date, the typical median delay is 112 days -- up from 105 days on March 13," said Mark Parsons, founder of Events Intelligence. "On average an organizer 'chooses' to delay their show by between four and five months."

According to CEIR, as of March 15, at least 50 B2B events have announced their cancellations, which altogether amounted to a total loss of 5.2 million NSF and $318 million in show organizer revenue, with a loss to the economy of $1.8 billion when direct spending of attendees and exhibitors are taken into account. (For an expanded list of cancelled and postponed events, visit Northstar Meetings Group's constantly updated list here.)

CEIR reports that there are about 9,400 B2B exhibitions held in the U.S. each year, and estimates the trade-show industry's total impact on the U.S. GDP is $101 billion in 2019, up from $97 billion in 2018.

"At this point, the decline in the exhibition industry is a one-off retraction of the industry's size," said CEIR Economist Allen Shaw, Ph.D., chief economist for Global Economic Consulting Associates, Inc. "Since this is a transitory event, we expect a full recovery for the exhibition industry in 2021."