Optimism returns to global exhibitions sector in 2023

UFI's latest survey indicates companies to achieve normal levels of activity by mid-year.

Four out of five companies expect to resume complete normalcy from June 2023.
Four out of five companies expect to resume complete normalcy from June 2023. Photo Credit: CES

The 30th edition of the Global Exhibition Barometer by UFI, the Global Association of the Exhibition Industry, shows a positive outlook for the industry in 2023.

Companies expect to reach normal levels of operations by June 2023, with 80% of them forecasting normal activity. Revenues for 2023 are expected to reach 94% of the 2019 level on average excluding China.

The most pressing business issues are internal management challenges and the impact of digitalisation, whereas the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the business is now marked by only 5% of companies as one of the most important issues.

The survey includes data from 367 companies in 56 countries and regions, with 21 focus countries and regions including China, India, UK, US and others.

Where are the shows happening?

The highest levels of normal activity are expected in Brazil (98%), Turkey and the US (95%), the UK (90%), Italy and Thailand (88%), and Spain and the UAE (85%).

China has the lowest expectation of normal activity, with only 29% expecting it and 40% expecting reduced activity. This is probably due to the fact that exhibitions can now be held everywhere in the world, except in some parts of China.

New hygiene measures have been introduced in several regions, with over 20% of respondents in Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, and Thailand reporting their implementation.

As of December 2022, 55% of respondents in China declared that exhibitions can be held with hygiene measures, 17% reported only local events, and 28% said events are still not allowed.

Half of the respondents offer "hosted buyers" packages, but only 25% are satisfied with the results while the remaining two-thirds have mixed results.

Let's talk business

The revenues in 2022 and 2023, excluding China, are 80% and 94% of 2019 levels, respectively. Colombia, France, Saudi Arabia, Spain, and Turkey performed above average in 2022 and the UK will join the group in 2023.

The markets in all countries, except China, Germany, Italy, Thailand, and the US, have operating profits above average levels in either 2022 or 2023 or both. 4% of respondents expect a loss in 2023 compared to 11% in 2022, with the highest loss expected in China (18%), Germany (17%), and Italy (11%).

Companies receiving public financial support are higher in Europe and Asia-Pacific, with significant differences across regions. The key business issue globally is internal management challenges", with 67% of respondents selecting "human resources" as a sub-issue, followed by "business model adjustments" and "finance".

The trend review of the industry's priorities shows a shift towards "Impact of digitalisation/competition with other media" as the main issue, with a decrease in "Global economic developments/State of the economy in the home market" and "Impact of Covid-19 pandemic on the business".

Internal management challenges" has increased, while "Sustainability/climate and other stakeholders’ issues" has doubled and "Competition from within the exhibition industry" has dropped.

Full physical, hybrid or virtual?

A survey of companies shows that 88% of them believe that the Covid-19 pandemic confirms the value of face-to-face events.

However, 26% of them believe there will be fewer international physical exhibitions with less participants in the future.

Some 57% believe there will be a push towards hybrid events with more digital elements, and only 5% believe virtual events will replace physical events.

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