My takeaways from the 90th UFI Global Congress

Rewinding to November 2023, Stephanie Selesnick shares her insights on the recent UFI Global Congress in her home town of Las Vegas.

StephThe 90th UFI Global Congress, which encouraged all of us to ‘Go beyond’, recently took place just down the road from my house – at the ARIA Resort & Casino in Las Vegas, NV, USA. It was my 10th Global Congress, and first without jet lag. Over 500 delegates  attended – 40% of them new. For many, it was the first time to the City of Lights (with apologies to Paris!).

Here are some of my takeaways from the sessions:

  • Lisa Hannant, Clarion Events Ltd. and Jochen Witt, jwc GmbH having a gin and tonic on stage at 10am, recreating a bar conversation UFI’s Kai Hattendorf overheard at a recent event.
  • According to a Clarion Events survey, 65% of exhibiting staff are new to their roles.
  • If your organisation is not using show data and holding serious conversations with stakeholders about what their ROI is for your event, said event won’t be around too much longer.
  • Look at value pricing (charging different prices for location and dates out from the show)


Why it matters: Organisers and Suppliers – we have a lot of new clients out there questioning EVERYTHING. Now is the time to figure out and implement practices to better deliver customer service, streamline outdated processes, and help exhibitors/sponsors and visitors connect before, during and after the show.


The Investors View with Bob Grey, Eagle Tree Capital (Arc Media)

New term (to me!): KEMA: Known, Engaged Marketing Audience. That’s us! We have the names, addresses, titles, companies, emails, etc. in our databases. This data is valuable.

Grey shared why investors still like exhibitions: good cash flow, predictable forward bookings, durable growth, not too competitive. Investors still prefer large shows. He also mentioned that media is a great way to track data. (Are we sensing a theme here?) Lastly, multiples are going up for those looking to sell.

Why it matters: This should be self-evident. Keep your database secure and clean. Good information in, good information out. Bad info in – well you know the rest.


DE&I (How I See It) with Meera Somji, Clusivity

Ten minutes can pack a wallop! Another new term: ‘Predictive Inequality’ – the cost of replacing employees who leave due to inequality or lack of diversity in the workplace. With the average being nine months to find replacements and onboard them, it’s worth paying attention to.

Why it matters: Your employees and clients want to see people who look like them in your organisation and on your show floors. DEI is an investment – not a cost.


The Board Room with Heather Farley, Access Intelligence; David Harrison, IMEX Group; Hugh Jones, RX; Mary Larkin, Arc Media Holdings Ltd. and Rachel Wimberly, Tarsus Group

This session was based on top industry trends via the latest UFI Global Barometer.

Meeting changing customer expectations: Mary Larkin, “Meet them (clients) where they want to be met.”

On talent, onboarding, and retention: Heather Farley: Don’t call it a return to office, when asking your team to come back to the office on a regular basis (be it 2x a week or full time). Refer to it as a “return to culture”. As Hugh Jones said, “It’s especially important for new hires to find a place [within the organisation] they belong.” Working in a face-to-face setting, at least part time, has a huge impact on retention.

Why it matters: Same old show, different year is not acceptable to new audiences. Mix things up. Use data to help make those changes. Track where people engage. Provide Instagrammable areas and unexpected experiences for buyers.


What Customers Expect Today – and Tomorrow, with Sophie Holt, Explori; Keegan Hooks, Informatica, and Tavar James, Riskified

This session from veteran corporate exhibitors was honest and unsettling to some.

Exhibitors’ budgets are going up! However, they are looking at ROI even more closely.

James said It’s not about the size of the space, but the opportunities to engage with attendees on and off the show floor that are important. He asked organisers to be flexible in negotiating sponsorships, and get to the “yes, we can do that” sooner in the process.

Provide a seamless experience between organiser and suppliers. No exhibitor wants to login to three or more different suppliers for an expo.

Hooks had a great tip to share with your exhibitors – she bribes – I mean rewards – her salespeople who complete lead forms and include good notes, making their database that more robust and accurate. Whoever does the best job at show wins a prize. Gamification works!

Why this matters: Exhibitors pay for our existence as an industry. Listen to them. Act on their requests. Be creative in your sponsorship offerings.


Beyond Tomorrow: AI In the Exhibitions Sector and the Future of Human Interactivity: Stephan Forseilles, Easyfairs and Enrico Gallorini, GRS,  S.r.l.

If you are given the opportunity, attend all sessions Stephan and Enrico offer on AI, be it in person or online.

Why it matters: AI is now and will be part of our future. Adapt or be out.


Top Industry Drivers in the Next 5 Years, Julius Solaris, Boldpush

Another ten-minute session. What stayed with me: Events are the most honest human interactive moments we share.


The Next Generation of Leaders New Blueprint for Event Planning & Operations with Otero Finiti, Elizabeth George, Informa Markets; Tehchad Kittiboonya, VNU Exhibitions Asia Pacific Co.; Aya Moatamed, Informa Markets and Amy Saleh, Hannover Fairs Australia.

In the closing Keynote, the UFI NGL class of 2023/24 shared survey results and came up with these three areas for improvement:

  • Exhibitions should be precisely tailored and ever-captivating.
  • They should expertly leverage technology and data.
  • The industry should intentionally look towards the future – including sustainability, inclusivity, and innovation.


The 91st UFI Global Congress takes place in Cologne, Germany. I’ll see you there - with jet lag!


Top Ten Trends I Wished for in 2023 (a Revisit)

Last December, I shared my wish list of 2023 trends. Sadly, I’m still wishing! There’s been a bit of traction on some, not much on others. Let’s look.

Proving and delivering the value of exhibitions. The good news is our NPS scores are up. The bad news is it may be temporary if we don’t make this a priority – now.

  • The use of technology and data in executing a superior experience for our stakeholders.
  • It’s been slow going but getting better. Again – good data in, etc…
  • Exhibitor and visitor training pre-show would be normalised and incorporated for all expos, not just a few. Sadly, I still don’t see this being adopted.New sales are costly against such an inexpensive fix.
  • Bespoke sponsorships- Exhibitors have money to spend. We must provide effective and creative ways to help them spend it!
  • ROI – Return on Intention – Did exhibitors and visitors achieve their goals for participating in your show? With so many newbies, we must deliver now or lose them.
  • It’s about the number of engagements, not the numbers of exhibitors, visitors, or amount of square metres sold. We’re hearing that discussing engagements is a trend (thanks IMEX & Money 20/20!), just not seeing it fully reflected yet.
  • Bring back the ‘Show’ in show business – Organisers and suppliers – how are you helping exhibitors bring better visitor engagement to their stands? Help your partners be successful.
  • Build and sustain communities – duh.
  • The death of ‘death by email’- I’m still getting inundated. What about you?
  • Airfare costs will go down. I’m still an optimist!


What trends do you wish for in 2024?