Report reveals scale of Asia’s trade fair challenges

The Covid pandemic hammered trade shows in Asia in 2020 and 2021. The latest (17th edition) of the UFI/BSG report, ‘The trade fair industry in Asia’ provides a snapshot of an industry reeling from an ongoing crisis and makes some interesting comparisons with regional markets before and during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. Among the findings are that Net space sold fell from the 24.5 million sqm. in 2019 to approximately 9.1 million sqm. in 2020.

Also, Asia’s relative success in managing the pandemic has led to governments maintaining restrictive quarantine and travel policies, which will significantly impact the industry in Asia well into 2022.

The report was compiled by Business Strategies Group (BSG) in Hong Kong on behalf of UFI, and attempts to provide a best estimate for the actual performance of the industry in 2020, as well as commentary on 2021 and the outlook for 2022. It contains over 100 pages of data and analysis and its views are those of its authors. 

Summary of 2020: Asian trade fair industry in crisis

Usual year-on-year comparisons have been rendered somewhat meaningless by the onslaught of the global pandemic and, this year, BSG’s bottom-up approach to estimates of net space sold was made more difficult by a dynamic and rapidly changing trading environment, as well as by limited availability of accurate data during various lockdowns across the region. 

Postponements, cancellations and last-minute reductions in exhibitors and visitors were an on-going problem in 2020 (and again in 2021). Despite these circumstances, this report provides reliable insight into the state of the Asian trade fair market in 2020 and 2021. 

Overall, BSG estimates that Asia recorded a 63% drop in net space sold in 2020, compared to 2019. Net space sold fell to just 9.1 million sqm in 2020.  Indeed Net space sold in the majority of trade fair markets fell by more than 80% in 2020. This figure includes some of the larger, more important trade fair markets such as Hong Kong, Thailand, Taiwan and Australia. A relatively strong performance by China prevented the regional average from falling much further. 

The decline in the majority of markets was actually 80% or more – including large markets such as Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, Thailand and Australia. Japan, the second largest market in Asia, fell by 77%. 

China, by far the largest trade fair market in the region, fell by ‘just’ 53%. This was due to the fact that events in China were permitted to run from July to December 2020 with few restrictions – although there was limited international participation at all of those events. 

Key market summary:


China is the largest trade fair market in Asia and in 2020 it was one of the best performers as net space sold dropped less than the regional average of 63%. In 2020, China’s trade fair market was the first to close and the first to re-open. Events in China were cancelled from late January to late June 2020. 

From July 2020, trade fairs in China ran for the rest of 2020 with few restrictions. The story was similarly positive in the first half of 2021. Events went ahead, albeit without international participation. 

In the summer of 2021, Chinese authorities began halting most events. As a result, the outlook is uncertain and that is putting the industry’s recovery at risk. Net space sold in China in 2022 could be down anywhere from 25% to 50%+ (vs. 2019), depending on the actions of the Chinese authorities. And international participation at Chinese events remains highly unlikely for most of 2022. 


The trade fair market in Japan was hit by Covid lockdowns, related mass gathering restrictions, closed international borders and the Tokyo Summer Olympics. The end result was a 77% drop in 2020 compared with 2019 in Asia’s second-largest and perennially slow-growth market. 

In 2021, events restarted, picking-up steam after the Olympics. By the fourth quarter of 2021, events were running quite well and mostly restriction-free - although mandatory quarantine requirements were still in place for international visitors. Barring a new outbreak or new virus variant, 2022 could be a solid recovery year in Japan with net space sold down just 20% to 30% compared with 2019. 


The region’s third largest trade fair market in 2019 posted an estimated 60% drop in net space sold in 2020 compared with 2019. By the summer of 2021, India, which had suffered bad numbers in the initial Covid outbreak had things reasonably under control and events were cautiously restarted. In 2022, the best-case scenario is probably a drop of 20% to 30% compared with 2019. International visitors may be slow to return, but new venue capacity should provide a boost to numbers. 


BSG estimates that Korea’s market was down 50% in 2020 compared with 2019. The country did better managing Covid in 2020 than it did in 2021. Since summer 2021, case numbers have been rising.

Korean events have been permitted to go ahead, however, although international participation has not yet resumed. 2022 will likely be down 30% or more compared with 2019. 

Hong Kong

This market has had a rough time. Events in the second half of 2019 were impacted by political protests, then Covid arrived in January 2020. 

The city’s borders have effectively been closed since March 2020 and Hong Kong may not open again for business until the end of 2022.

Net space sold in Hong Kong was down 94% in 2020 (vs. 2019) and sadly, the numbers in 2021 will be the same. In 2022, BSG estimates that, at best, net space will be down 50% - and at worst, it could be another devastating year with a possible decline of over 90%.