Trade shows are coming back like it’s 2019

Bullish days ahead as trade shows and association events on track to reach pre-Covid levels within 2023.

CES 2023 drew 3,200 exhibitors and over 115,000 attendees.
CES 2023 drew 3,200 exhibitors and over 115,000 attendees. Photo Credit: CES

If CES 2023 is any guide, trade shows and exhibitions are set for a roaring comeback this year.

Last month, CES – the world’s largest tech trade show – took place in Las Vegas with more than 3,200 exhibitors from 173 countries and territories. The organiser, Consumer Technology Association, said that CES shattered expected attendance and drew over 115,000 industry professionals – marking it the largest audited global tech event since early 2020.

Later this month, Mobile World Congress, organised by the GSM Association, is expected to welcome 75,000 attendees from 168 countries to explore the latest connectivity technology in Barcelona. 

While physical attendance numbers at both events are lower than before the pandemic (MWC, for example, attracted around 109,000 attendees back in 2019), industry observers say trade shows are being revitalised this year.

“It’s interesting to see that the valuations placed on trade shows are very strong,” said Howard Givner, founder and CEO of the Event Leadership Institute, speaking at a recent webinar on the state of the event industry in 2023. 

“Corporate Solutions, a business broker that helps buyers and sellers connect to sell trade shows, says valuation multiples have been strong and steady for the first three quarters of 2022 and it expects the same for the remainder of the year. Trade shows and association events have started to reach pre-Covid levels.”

Natalie Crampton, founder and managing director of Dubai-based TEC said the future is looking really bright for events and trade shows. Dubai. which unveiled that it has secured twice the number of event bids in 2022 compared with 2021, has unveiled ambitions to turn the destination into one of the world's leading logistic hubs and global financial centres.

“The industry is looking bright, last year was our biggest year ever in terms of revenue; we’re back to pre-pandemic levels with shows and so this year is looking really positive as well,” she says. “We are also seeing the trend where people are doing less hybrid and looking to do on-demand sections on websites and microsites post-event. It’s a great idea – you can plan when the content is released and keep the event conversation going.”

Event management technology platform Cvent says it is looking at trade shows this year with renewed confidence, compared to last year when it says it questioned whether there would be a significant audience.

“This year we are going to these [trade show] events and we’re going to make it much more of an experience for those people that attend,” said Felicia Asiedu, senior marketing manager for event marketing and management solutions at Cvent Europe.

Paulina Curto, senior manager, meetings and events at Cvent, said that trade shows are not about meeting last year’s volume of leads – they are more about creating brand awareness and levels of personalisation.

“We are taking trade shows a step further, having a conversation around personalisation and customisation, a three-pronged approach that speaks to our brand, our solutions and how we can help the industry,” she says. 

“We want to do something impactful at trade shows, featuring experiential marketing. It could be an in-booth activation that creates a buzz, a happy hour featuring a ‘quick hit’ presentation, a wellness partnership. It’s not just about coming to your booth and picking up swag. And if there is swag, it’s substantial, sustainable and thoughtful.”