Future trends are here and now!

Trevor Foley MD, tfconnect, picks out some key trends and is optimistic about opportunity for all


I remember reading an UFI prediction back in 2021 that the trade show industry would be back to normal in 2025. I suspected, however, that it would be much sooner. Pent up demand was a real thing. For some it was as early as 2022 but for the majority it was last year. And, not just back to normal but, for many, ahead of the last full pre-Covid year of 2019.

With good forward bookings at 2023 shows, this year should be as good or even better than last year. The impact of growing events means ‘boom time’, too, for both venues and the contractors/suppliers.

This is good news because it allows all three sides of the industry to have the confidence to research, plan, take more risks and to develop Capex plans. Of course, on top of this, the major trend for this year, and next, will be the huge amount of M&A activity we can expect.

Established players, who are shaping for a sale, have already spent much of 2023 thinking about the management teams and key functional players that they need in place to present to potential acquirers. A significant number of acquirers are likely to be Private Equity or High Net Worth parties. They will want to see strong management teams with top commercial, marketing and content resources.

A second ‘right here, right now’ trend, is that many organisers are on the journey of moving from Conference to Confex (often with a change of venue type) or, in the other direction, a move from Exhibition to Confex. The creation of Confexes, that marry commercial and content offerings, is very much what business communities want.

Launch & disrupt

A third trend sees an increase in both event launches and disruptive activities. Many of these are under wraps for now of course!

Fourthly, data, digital and a greater focus on both customer success and customer experience (attendees, exhibitors and sponsors) will also continue to drive talent demand into the future.

All of these trends are great news for the best talent in the industry. There is no shortage of candidates for roles in launch, growth and disruptive environments, particularly where the reward includes equity. This is good news for organisers, venues and partners/suppliers who need the right resources to deliver on growth opportunities.

In short, the trends of the creation of more Confex models, launch and disruptive platforms and M&A, leading to the inevitable creation of more PE and privately owned businesses, is good news for those with the right experience, ambition and energy. It’s going to be a lively year or three! Above all, our industry is in great health and is well set for continued growth.

I believe that the serious challenges our industry faced in 2020 and 2021 set us on a course for a brighter future than might otherwise have been the case. There was a view at the time that, because the core business of selling exhibition stands or curating good conference content had been so strong that we, as an industry, had been sleepwalking as regards the delivering of digital channels for our communities. It turns out that ‘live’ continues to be the perfect bedfellow in an increasingly digital world.

Moreover, we have the talent base in our industry to keep delivering what we do best. Keep it live!