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Exhibition industry revenues expected to double in 2021: UFI

Latest Global Barometer research highlights severe impact of Covid-19, but indicates quick recovery in 2021.

Looking ahead, the share of exhibition companies expecting a return to “normal” activity is expected to grow from 10% in January to 37% in June.
Looking ahead, the share of exhibition companies expecting a return to “normal” activity is expected to grow from 10% in January to 37% in June. Photo Credit:Getty Images

UFI, the global association of the exhibition industry, has released the latest edition of its flagship Global Barometer research, which indicates a strong recovery in the Asia-Pacific region.

Globally, between April and August 2020, more than half of all companies reported no activity. This situation changed from September, where the majority of companies declared some operations, at reduced levels for most.

Looking ahead to 2021, the share of companies expecting a return to “normal” activity is expected to grow from 10% in January to 37% in June.
These results vary depending on region, and are primarily driven by the “re-opening date” of exhibitions.

In all regions, most companies expect both local and national exhibitions to re-open by the end of June 2021, with international exhibitions resuming in the second half of the year. Company operations also include, while face-to-face events are not possible, working into the development of digital solutions.

When asked what element would most help with the “bounce back” of exhibitions, the majority of companies, ranked “readiness of exhibiting companies and visitors to participate again” (64%), “lift of current travel restrictions” (63%) and “lift of current public policies that apply locally to exhibitions” (52%) as key factors.

Exhibition revenues are expected to rebound sharply.
Exhibition revenues are expected to rebound sharply. Photo Credit: UFI

Global overview

- 44% of companies benefitted from some level of public financial support; for the majority this related to less than 10% of their overall 2019 costs.

- 54% of companies had to reduce their workforce, with half of these by more than 25%.

- 10% of companies will have to consider permanently ceasing operations if there are no events for the next six months.

“The message from the global industry is clear: quite simply, 2020 was horrible. The pandemic stopped most activities around the world for several months, and, globally, our industry’s revenue dropped by almost three quarters," said Kai Hattendorf, UFI managing director and CEO.

"But, as the Global Barometer shows, 2021 should see a significant bounce back, with global revenues expected to double, pending markets re-opening and clarity on regulations. We will ‘build back’ even better, and while the industry will remain, primarily, a face-to-face marketing channel, digital offers will evolve with new patterns.”

Resilience in APAC

The revenue drop for 2020 was the highest for companies in Central and South America and the Middle East and Africa (who respectively only achieved 23% and 24% of 2019 revenue levels).

Companies in the Asia-Pacific region (27% of 2019 levels), Europe (32% of 2019 levels) and North America (36% of 2019 levels) are at or above global averages. The 2021 perspectives are rather similar for all regions: who are expecting to achieve between 32% and 37% of last year’s revenue for H1-2021, and between 55% and 60% for all of 2021.

The share of companies forced to reduce their workforce is higher in the Middle East and Africa (73% of companies), North America (61%) and Central and South America (56%), than in Europe (52%) and the Asia-Pacific region (49%).

The proportion of companies believing they will need to close if business doesn’t resume within the next six months varies from 5% in North America, to 6% in the Asia-Pacific region, 10% in Central and
South America, 14% in Europe and 17% in the Middle East and Africa, while the proportion of companies who believe they will cope ranges from 26% in Europe to 40% in the Asia-Pacific region.

Future exhibition formats

In terms of future exhibition formats, global results indicate that 64% (compared to 57% six months ago) are confident that “COVID-19 confirms the value of face-to-face events”, indicating an expectation that the sector will bounce back quickly.

The claim “COVID-19 confirms the value of face-to-face events” was more widely agreed with in the Middle East and Africa (70% of companies), the Asia-Pacific region (69%) and Europe (67%), than in North America (55%) and Central and South America (53%).

Meanwhile, there were stronger opposing views for the claim “virtual events replacing physical events”, with 74% of companies in Europe disagreeing, compared to just 57% of companies from North America.

This latest edition of UFI’s bi-annual industry survey was concluded in December 2020, and includes data from 457 companies in 64 countries and regions.