The business-to-business exhibition industry came to a standstill in the second quarter of 2020, according to new findings from the Center for Exhibition Industry Research. The organization reported that growth in the sector dropped almost 100 percent compared with 2019, as almost no in-person trade shows were held. About 88 percent of events scheduled to take place in Q2 of 2020 were cancelled, while the remaining 12 percent were postponed (and some of those were eventually cancelled, as well).
This drop was particularly stark when compared with the gross domestic product, which usually correlates with the quarterly growth of the exhibitions sector. While trade show business stalled, the GDP dropped only 9.5 percent from a year ago, or at an annual rate of 32.9 percent from the previous quarter.
“This time around, the relationship [between GDP and performance of the exhibition industry] is eclipsed,” said CEIR economist Allen Shaw, Ph.D., who is also chief economist for Global Economic Consulting Associates, Inc. “What has caused this disconnect will be discussed at CEIR Predict, as well as what this means for how long it will take for the industry to recover.” Taking place virtually on Sept. 22, CEIR Predict is the organization’s annual trade-show industry outlook conference, which brings together exhibition executives to discuss the trends that are expected to impact the industry in the next few years.
According to the CEIR, part of the disparity between the drop in the GDP and trade-show growth can be attributed to the reopening of various state economies and return of some economic activities from May onward, which softened the impact on the GDP but had no effect on trade shows.
The patchwork of state and local restrictions on gatherings, social-distancing and hygiene protocols, corporate “no travel” policies, consumer reluctance to travel and lack of a federally managed response to the pandemic were all cited by CEIR as contributing to the especially challenging environment that exhibition executives must manage.
The CEIR did report some positive signs, with a handful of exhibitions having taken place in July and plans announced for hybrid and digital events.
“The exhibition industry is transforming and innovating itself with a rise in virtual or hybrid events to fill the void while physical events are paused,” said Cathy Breden, CMP, CAE, CEM, who is CEO of the CEIR. “Predict will explore and discuss this phenomenon, and other future-looking trends highly likely to impact the industry moving forward. These insights are essential for any trade show industry executive looking to plan the way forward for 2021 and for the post-Covid-19 future.”