The Evolution of the Exhibition Industry

Skift Take

UFI CEO Kai Hattendorf shares key trends impacting the exhibition industry and paints a picture of what trade shows will look like in the future.

Kai Hattendorf began his career as a broadcast journalist before weaving his way through previous roles within start-ups and telecommunications before joining the exhibition and B2B events industry. He is currently the CEO of UFI, a position he has held since 2015. UFI is The Global Association of the Exhibition Industry, founded in 1925.

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Making the Business Case for Exhibitions

One of UFI’s main projects is their Global Exhibition Industry Barometer, released twice a year, with the 30th edition out soon. It is a data-driven project which looks not only at developments on a global level but also regionally and with a country breakdown that allows businesses to compare how the industry is doing within each region. The research aims to provide teams with the information needed to make a business case to company leadership for trade shows, providing them with detailed data on markets they may wish to consider exploring.

The Impact of China Reopening

With China reopening its borders to international travel, Hattendorf is optimistic about what he is hearing regarding increased budgeting towards activities within the country. Good news when we compare it to last year when businesses generally were not looking to invest within China. Whether the recovery will follow a similar pattern to the USA and Europe depends on reconnecting to the airline schedules and routes and resuming pre-pandemic airline capacity.

Shift to Year-Round Engagement

Hattendorf sees a clear shift by exhibition and events organizers towards year-round engagement rather than focusing on once-a-year in-person gatherings. UFI has made this shift successfully and can guide other organizations looking to embrace this approach. 

Sustainability in Trade Shows

Hattendorf is actively involved in the industry’s efforts to embrace sustainability, and attended COP27 in Egypt. Hattendorf has been discussing the issue of sustainability and climate action for several years. The work on this project began at COP26 in Glasgow. At COP27, the campaign launched a roadmap for the industry to become carbon neutral by 2050. The roadmap, which the Net Zero Carbon Events Initiative created, a group of over 500 players within the events industry space, is free of charge to access.

The Future of Exhibitions

Looking to the industry’s future, Hattendorf shares his vision for the business trade show in ten years. The show floor remains, but the exhibitor focus shifts from product presentations to facilitating conversations. Technology has a role for technology, perhaps through augmented reality, but using it more holistically to stay better connected to work while at events. Regardless of changes and developments to venues, layouts, or technology, exhibitions will still be about people wanting to connect and spend time with each other.

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