If trade shows return, how will they look?

By some measures the largest trade show in the world, the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), has moved to an online format for next year. In 2019, the Las Vegas, USA event had 170,000 visitors, 6,000 media representatives, and 4,000 exhibiting companies from all over the world. A blog post on the announcement from UFI, the global exhibition industry association, was headlined “The end of the world as we know it is officially here”. For the industry, that’s as bad as it gets.

At the time of writing, the NEC in Birmingham has trade shows listed as still going ahead physically as soon as November, and there are major ones still flagged up for early next year. These include the rescheduled MACH, the UK’s largest manufacturing trade event. Whether they’ll survive as planned is anyone’s guess, and the number of exhibitors and visitors who’ll fancy going is impossible to predict.

The UFI blog post says: “Now is an opportunity to start new ventures. It’s an opportunity to throw out the centuries-old way of doing business and start fresh. It’s a chance to truly focus on enhancing the connections and relationships between buyers and sellers – and our shows – and not simply sell real estate.

“We’re stuck with COVID-19 for now and the near future. Our industry is full of resilient and clever planners. Let’s dust off the permeating smell of defeat and get planning for that future. Today.”

This article in Exhibition News suggests that “Covid-19 has been a real opportunity for the exhibition industry to drill down and finally have the opportunity to get to grips with the various technologies available to it”. I suspect that these technologies will find their way through to physical exhibitions if they ever return at scale. However, the less glamorous changes to exhibition stands will be just as important. Here’s a good article on how the trade show of the immediate future might look. Smart stand layout, semi-private meeting areas, the adaptation of display technology and the use of new, safer materials will all feature, it seems.