The 5 trends in the Exhibition and Business Events Industry in 2019

2018 has become a memorable year for the exhibition and business events industry around the world – with much of the attention on M&A, on changing event formats or “festivalisation”, and on a changing global landscape.
As every year, the UFI team has used our association’s Global Congress as well as many separate conversations all around the world to isolate and identify the core themes that we feel will impact the global exhibition industry in 2019. So today, let me share with you “UFI’s 5 trends to watch in 2019”:

1. Shifting trade patterns and a jittery global economy

Amidst a climate of political tension, protectionism and false news globally, economic growth is slowing down. The latest IMF forecasts point to rougher times ahead for the global economy, citing protectionism and new tariffs as a major cause. The US/China tariffs alone are calculated to reduce global economic growth by 0.4% in the long-term. Even without this additional burden, growth has become difficult to sustain, especially in the mature exhibition markets: CEIR data shows that, in the U.S. alone, our industry has seen below par growth compared to the U.S. economy as a whole in seven out of the last eight quarters.

It comes as no surprise that, whatever survey you look at, growing numbers of U.S. organisers are looking into doing business outside of their home country. In parallel, 2018 has seen the first ever time when a Chinese organiser has taken a majority share in a trade show outside of China.

We will see players from the two largest domestic markets in the world looking into options abroad. All of this offers new opportunities to partner between organisers from different markets, and to capitalise on joint interests.

2. Digital is everywhere – but it is not everything

Ten years into the mass adaption of social media and the rise of the smartphones, it is time to end the discussion about the role of digitisation in our industry. Today, digital is simply everywhere – on the show floor, in the show manager’s office, in the customer’s exhibition experience. As digital has become as common as electricity, it has become a commodity (just as show security, by the way). The adoption of the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) is leading us to a “new normal” in the way that we as an industry are dealing with customer data and are building up the in-house resources to achieve that.

Data handling and data security will be big topics in the future. As show brands around the world increasingly communicate digitally with their customers and communities all year round, data operations will be as relevant as show floor operations.

3. Getting the basics right goes a long way on creating experiences

For many years, the “show” in this very word “show floor” was understood to be about the exhibitors showcasing their products and services. To the millennial and post-millennial generation, however, it is just as much about the “show” that a show organiser puts on around the show floor itself.

“Festivalisation” is a buzzword, and will rightly disappear again. But we are well advised to listen closely to our customers and their call for very personal and individual experiences when they attend an exhibition. As the overlap between tradeshows and congresses/conferences continues to grow, there are opportunities to deliver that – and there is a risk for those who don’t pay attention to these shifting demands.

After polling more than 13,000 show visitors globally for the UFI/Explori Global Visitor Insights, we have a solid understanding of visitors’ changing expectations*. Many visitors are reporting “trade show fatigue” (less so in developing markets than in developed markets, and with the highest share – one quarter – in the Americas). Visitors say that their interest in other channels such as online marketplaces and conferences will likely rise significantly relative to trade shows.

Organisers and venues alike are well advised to never forget to deliver excellence in terms of the basics as visitor pain points are surprisingly simple. The top five are: seating, catering, queueing, parking, and quality of the exhibitors. Organisers can go a long way to pleasing visitors by getting these five factors right.

4. Consolidation and collaboration

We have seen an intense level of M&A activity in the past two years – shaking up our industry in the process. In addition, more and better venue space around the world is being built, as UFI’s World Map of Venues shows. In 2019, we are expecting the opening of what is poised to be the world’s largest exhibition venue complex in Shenzhen.

Billions of dollars are flowing into our industry. And all the signs right now are indicating that, despite the less positive economic outlook, our industry remains attractive for investors looking for solid, mid-term returns of their investments.

The mix of players in the industry remains varied: listed companies, publicly owned organiser/venue operator enterprises, family businesses, entrepreneurs and government bodies. The growing number of “out of the industry investors” is driving prices to new heights, but it remains to be seen whether all these bets on growth will be successful. Our industry’s reputation, however, is certainly benefitting from this trend. It is helping our stakeholders to better understand the economic impact that every show, every venue creates every day.

5. Diversity in leadership
If you look at the teams who deliver and grow exhibitions around the world, and who operate venues, you find a broad diversity of skills, nationalities, and qualifications. Slowly but surely, our industry is reflecting this as well in its leadership. We’ve seen a steady flow of senior appointments enriching the diversity of boardrooms over the past two years, adding new voices to the respective tables – most notably women on the one hand, but also hires from outside of the industry. Both of these trends will accelerate, and continue, in 2019 and beyond, to the benefit of our industry. To reduce this discussion to a gender issue alone, however, leaves out a major part – cultures and skills are just as important a part of the mix. As someone recently told me: “When you’re the CEO, the challenges you have to tackle are the same – whether you’re a woman or a man, from Europe, America or Asia, and regardless of the colour of your skin.”

by Kai Hattendorf, Managing Director / CEO at UFI, The Global Association of the Exhibition Industry
*full results to be released later this month – check at