The latest UFI report clearly shows that the exhibition industry has not just survived; it's thriving. But what must be done to secure sustainable growth?
After weathering the storm of the pandemic, the global exhibition industry is in good health. In fact, UFI’s 32nd Global Exhibition Barometer spells out a dazzling future for the industry. In 2024, revenues are set to smash pre-pandemic records, reaching 115% on average globally of the pre-pandemic level.
UFI’s report profiles 19 markets, which includes a nuanced look at regional narratives painting the global picture. From the Middle East to North America, everyone’s busy. The activity needle is moving up, with projections only climbing higher for 2024. India is showing off with a 127% revenue recovery. Even those lower down the list, like Thailand at 80%, are steadily trekking back.
Interestingly, Germany, a leading country in terms of exhibitions, saw only 82% of revenue in 2023 compared to 2019. Its estimates for 2024 are for a full 100% recovery, but it still falls short of most other regions.
The level of operations is also growing globally, with all regions declaring an increase in the second half of 2023. The trend will continue into 2024, with North America, the Middle East, and Africa looking strongest.
“Our report shows that the exhibition industry hasn’t just reached pre-pandemic levels in 2023 but is also planning to grow in 2024 and many new jobs in exhibitions are coming up around the world. This good news comes in parallel with shifts of business priorities, where economic and environmental considerations show significant progression,” said Kai Hattendorf, Managing Director and CEO at UFI.
The report also examines exhibition organizers’ concerns, which seem to have shifted to local and global economic developments. Former frontrunners like internal management issues and the impact of digitalization are a lower priority. Sustainability and climate issues are also gaining traction.
There’s also a hiring buzz in the air. Over half of the surveyed companies (52%) are scouting for new talent over the next six months. Most of the other half (45%) said they plan to stabilize current staff numbers. The Middle East looks particularly strong, with all Saudi Arabian companies looking to hire more staff and 82% of UAE-based organizers doing the same.
The acknowledgment of artificial intelligence (AI) playing an important role in the future of exhibitions is almost total, with 91% of organizers agreeing that it will impact the industry. At the same time, industry leaders are beyond the point of eagerly exploring these shiny new tools. They are already reaping the benefits. More than a third (37%) of organizers already use AI for “sales, marketing, and customer relations”, with a similar portion (35%) using AI for “research and development”. “Event production” is also a current use of AI, with 20% of organizers using it for this.
Securing Sustainable Growth
While the growth predictions are encouraging, the exhibition industry faces headwinds like all others. In a letter to UFI members, UFI President and CEO of DMG Events Geoff Dickinson said, “While our industry is doing very well as well, we need to learn a lot for it to stay that way, and we can learn the most from looking at how other industries are tackling problems that are similar to the ones we are facing.”
Dickinson makes the point that the exhibition industry is not unique at a strategic level, and it must embrace external voices and learn from other industries in order to thrive. “Everyone in top management needs to tackle sustainability, and changing customer expectations and business models, and staffing and retention challenges across markets and cultures,” he said.