Will this be the death of the trade show?

A couple of weeks ago, I expressed my worries for the future of the conferences and exhibitions industry, and some recent survey data confirms that the situation is indeed worrying. In this survey, for example, two-thirds of respondents said they wouldn’t attend any live events this year. But as I said before, the situation is worse than that. While it’s possible that the organisers could operate scaled-down events targeting the third of people who say they will come out to play, in reality they’ll have fewer presenters or exhibitors to offer, so the appeal of the event will be lessened anyway.

What’s more, it’s not just down to the attendees; I suspect that some employers won’t let staff expose themselves to non-essential risks, regardless.

All that is surely going to lead to a shake-out in the conference and exhibition industry that may be on a par with that being faced by the hospitality and tourism sectors. Remote equivalents to live meetings may always be second best, but there’ll be a degree of movement towards them which means that even if the surviving conference and exhibition organisers can regroup and take a step forward, it’ll only be in relation to the two steps back they took during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Maybe the organisers will have to re-invent themselves with online offerings: this could work to some degree with conferences. However, online trade shows are – and always have been – rubbish. Until we get almost unimaginable steps forward in virtual reality technology, the traditional trade show may have been dealt a fatal blow.