Barometer points to exhibition sun rising on in-person return

EW takes a look at the recent UFI Global Barometer research, which indicates encouraging signs for a 2022 Great Reopening, and we look at two shows symbolising that return

The global association of the exhibition industry, UFI, has released the 28th edition of its flagship Global Barometer research, which is designed to provide an update on the state of the industry. 

The bi-annual report, which concluded in January 2022, surveyed 401 companies from 53 countries and regions.

Kai Hattendorf, managing director and CEO of UFI, states how the “sun is finally rising at the end of a long, dark pandemic. The perspectives for 2022 are brighter and continue to improve quickly.”

Returning to in-person

Results highlight the quickening pace of the industry’s recovery in response to the enduring impact of Covid-19 throughout 2021. There is a strong belief that the sector, primarily driven by physical exhibitions and business events, will bounce back quickly.

In terms of operations, the proportion of companies declaring ‘normal activity’ has increased from less than two in 10, in July 2021, to around four in 10, between October 2021 and February 2022. According to UFI’s predictions,
this looks set to increase to around six in 10 companies expecting
normal activity levels from
March 2022.

The demand for in-person exhibitions is also on the rise, with 80% of respondents agreeing that ‘Covid-19 confirms the value of face-to- face events’ (up from 64%, 12 months ago).

This is mirrored by the growing financial recovery of the global exhibitions industry. On average, companies saw a 2021 turnover of just 41% of 2019 levels, and UFI projects that this will increase to 71% of the same baseline, in 2022.

Despite these encouraging signs, there must be a recognition of the regional differentiation in re-opening owing to the variances in vaccination rates and easing of restrictions. Companies from the Americas and Europe have started to see normal levels of business (pre-pandemic) resume towards the end of 2021, while the Asia-Pacific, Middle East, and Africa are still experiencing a sluggish return. 

Pain points

Covid-19 is still considered the largest factor impacting business at the start of 2022 for 19% of respondents, which is down from 29% six months ago. 

Hattendorf highlights what are the primary growing pain points for respondents in the Global Barometer: “As the industry bounces back, the key issues now facing companies are around internal management issues and the impact of digitisation.”

These issues ranked second and third most pressing challenges for respondents. These pain points have increased by 10% and 6% respectively since the last Global Barometer in July 2021. The three main components of ‘Internal management challenges’ are human resources, business model adjustments, and finance. 

There are geographic disparities in the prevalence of these issues. In Germany, the ‘impact of digitalisation’ is matched with the ‘impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the business’ as the most pressing issue for 20% of respondents. However, ‘internal management challenges’ represents the key business issue across Australia, Argentina and Mexico, Spain, Colombia, Thailand, and South Africa.

Back with a bang

Inspired Home Show- Chicago, US 

The Chicago-based McCormick Place convention and exhibition centre welcomed back ‘The Inspired Home Show’, 5-7 March. 

Buyers from 84 countries met with 1,016 exhibitors during the show. The event also attracted 20,000 visitors, the largest attendance since the onset of the pandemic.

The Inspired Home Show was the first trade show in Chicago since the mask mandates were lifted across Illinois, 28 February, marking the end of a month-long requirement for many indoor public spaces.

While the Show typically attracts 60,000 attendees and 2,200 exhibitors, the event was a large step in the right direction for exhibitions in Chicago.  

Larita Clark, CEO of the Metropolitan Pier & Exposition Authority, the owner of McCormick Place, told EW: “McCormick Place reopened in July (2021) and has steadily gained momentum, even with two major surges due to Covid-19 variants. The 2022 convention calendar is very strong. There are 176 events scheduled. We estimate that these events will bring approximately 1.7m visitors, spending $1.2m hotel nights and generating $1.87bn in local economic impact.”

Meetings Africa- Johannesburg, South Africa 

International associations and meetings industry professionals convened at Meetings Africa 2022, 28 February-2 March, to showcase Africa’s diverse offerings of services and products at the Sandton Convention Centre, Johannesburg, South Africa. 

 “Meetings Africa 2022 was a face-to-face trade show with minimal elements that were virtual,” Amanda Kotze-Nhlapo, chief convention bureau officer at South African Tourism, told EW. “Meetings Africa was also a catalyst to get people to travel from one place to another in order to create and grow relationships.”  

The 16th edition of the show brought together 161 buyers and 216 exhibitors from 13 African countries. 

While revenues were not able to reach the same levels as pre-pandemic shows, Kotze-Nhlapo believes Meetings Africa 2022 was an important stepping stone for the exhibition industry:

“Meetings Africa was last held in 2020 since the crippling health pandemic. Meetings Africa 2022 provided hope for the business events industry both for the continent and the rest of the