Kai Hattendorf is CEO of the Global Association of the Exhibition Industry (UFI). In this exclusive interview, published in December 2021’s edition of FloraCulture International, he talks about how the sector will need to continue to factor in uncertainties.
Kai Hattendorf: “These are “in-between” times. After a catastrophic 2020, our industry saw more reason to be hopeful in 2021. This year, markets began to re-open around the world – but not with the full reopening we had hoped for, as we continue to be challenged by new waves and new variants of COVID. We are still facing an outlook of ‘stop and go’ for show organisers – the most difficult situation possible for our industry. But as we head towards the end of the year, we have passed a remarkable tipping point: Less than a year after the first vaccination campaigns began, more than half the world’s population have received at least one dose, with more than 26 million doses of the vaccine being given daily.
“We are regularly taking the “pulse” of the global industry in our “Global Exhibitions Barometer”, and I invite your readers to download this report from our research website https://www.ufi.org/research for the complete picture. But in a nutshell – the industry is bouncing back from the catastrophic year 2020 everywhere around the world, and 2021 will only be the beginning of many years of strong growth.
“Generally, there is a strong belief that the sector, primarily driven by physical exhibitions and business events, will bounce back quickly. The proportion of companies globally that are reporting ‘normal activity’ has increased from 12 per cent to close to 50 per cent. These results vary depending on region, and are primarily driven by the currently confirmed or expected ‘reopening dates’ for exhibitions. The majority of companies in all regions expect both local and national exhibitions to open again in the coming 12 months, and international exhibitions to reopen in the first half of 2022.”
“We have always been faced with disruption in our industry, that has always been a part of the ‘old normal’ – remember volcanic eruptions, financial and political crises, or previous health crises.
“It is impossible to say when we will have beaten the pandemic globally. I already spoke about the ‘stop and go’ we have to live with – this will define our work for quite a while still.
“And when we eventually arrive in the ‘new normal’, changing challenges and ongoing disruptions of some kind will be just as much an element of our normal life as they have been in the past.”
“At UFI, we are seeing the same. As markets reopen, the regional and national events are the first to restart, as they rely less on a wider international or global audience. China, the US, and the EU as a block are huge internal markets, so the industry is bouncing back fast. Shows that are focussed on a global audiene have a harder time, given ongoing travel restrictions and challenges.”
“We have to live with these uncertainties. And we have to factor them in. Many organisers are in regular contact with their exhibitors now in the run up to a show, exchanging the news and updates around the event – to jointly see how a show can best serve an industry. What we see everywhere around the world: It is the right decision to run a show if you can do so safely – there are fewer exhibitors and visitors, but the business they make is crucial.”
“Trade shows are the central market places and meeting places for every industry, every commercial community. They are essential. Business is based on relationships – in good times and in bad times. As soon as a boom in one sector ends, the businesses who have not invested in these relationships are the ones who suffer the most.”
“We have learned that there are elements where digital offers good solutions: On content for example. We have also seen – once again – that ‘digital exhibitions do not work. We recently released a survey where we asked exhibiting companies to rate digital trade shows – the result is a Net Promoter Score of -51. I have never seen such a poor score before.
“So the main learning is simple: There is huge potential in digital solutions and services to make the real event better, and to offer digital services in between the face to face platforms. Most likely the leading companies in our sector ten years from now will be those who have embraced these opportunities in the best way.”
“That differs from industry to industry, and from show community to show community. What we see is that, through the pandemic, show brands have indeed found a new, wider digital audience. And our research shows that these – mainly young – professionals are now eager and keen to move from a digital only participation to attending the real event.”
“For every business to suceed, it needs to be profitable. New digital products and services will open up new revenue streams, while the traditional ones are bouncing back. There will be challenges for sure – we all need to make more efforts to make our events carbon neutral for instance – but at the core this will remain an industry where good show organisers will earn good money.”
“UFI has been driving an industry wide initative on this, the “Net Zero Carbon Events Initiative”. Backed by the United Nations, we now have a pledge for the whole events industry to produce Net Zero Carbon Events by 2050 at the latest. I encourage everyone to join this project and work with us on getting there. All the information is on www.netzerocarbonevents.org “
“I am certainly not an expert in that field – so my advice can only be generic: Make sure you can build the best possible market place for the businesses you want to attract, and do everything you can so that they can be successful. Their success will be your success as well.”