Trade Shows Boosted by Strong Asian Interest

Skift Take

Increased business travel from Asia is good news for global trade shows. MWC Barcelona 2023 is seeing a solid increase in overall attendance, but it is still far from 2019 levels. Meanwhile, IMEX reports strong buyer demand from Korea and China.

MWC Barcelona 2023, the largest trade show for the mobile communications industry, opened its doors on Monday and concludes on Thursday. Organizer GSMA expects more than 80,000 attendees to take part at the Fira Barcelona Gran Via.

The iconic event was one of the first major events impacted by the Covid pandemic. GSMA canceled the show’s 2020 edition just 12 days before it should have opened its doors. Barcelona, hosts of the event since 2006, lost out on an estimated $500 million hit that year alone.

Trade Show Attendance Grows, But Still Far From 2019

As the global trade show sector continues to slowly recover from the Covid pandemic, the feeling around MWC Barcelona is positive. The expected attendance is a vast improvement on the over 61,000 that took part in 2022. For the five years before the Covid pandemic, the show averaged 103,700 attendees. This year’s predicted attendance places the show at just over 77 percent of pre-Covid pandemic attendance levels. 

This 23 percent drop in attendance matches exactly the data on U.S. trade show attendance released by the Center for Exhibition Industry Research (CEIR) in December. At the Skift Meetings Future of the Event Industry virtual summit, Freeman senior vice president of strategy Ken Holsinger previewed the latest Freeman research, indicating a jump in attendance numbers to 87 percent of 2019 levels.

While these figures are positive, they match those of trade shows across the globe that are struggling to return to 2019 attendance levels. In the specific case of MWC events, smartphone sales peaking in 2016 suggest that a contraction of attendance may not be entirely linked to the Covid pandemic. Sector experts also highlight that most major brands are scheduling fewer product launches at trade shows, further lessening their appeal to potential participants.

Chinese Exhibitors and Attendees Are Back

The limited number of participants from Asia hindered MWC Barcelona in both the 2021 and 2022 editions. Back in 2019, six percent of the total attendance, around 6,500 people, came from China.

This is not the case this year. There are 150 Chinese exhibitors and sponsors out of a total of 2,000. 5,000 people are traveling from China, around 6.3 percent of the total attendance. Major Chinese brands such as Huawei, Honor, Xiaomi, and OnePlus have large stands. Huawei has invested heavily in the show, despite U.S. sanctions. The company is taking up almost the whole of Hall 1, which signifies a 50 percent increase in footprint compared to 2022.

Show organizers GSMA confirmed earlier this month that MWC Shanghai 2023, the show’s Chinese counterpart, will take place in June. The 2022 edition of the show was canceled, while the hybrid 2021 edition had 25,000 people on-site, with 175,000 consuming content online. Organizers had anticipated 75,000 attendees to the 2020 edition, which was later canceled.

GMSA investment in MWC Shanghai could mean that MWC Barcelona won’t get close to past attendance figures of over 100,000. Some industry experts predict a shift to regional shows rather than one single global show. Among them, David DuBois, President and CEO of the International Association of Exhibitions and Events (IAEE).

IMEX Reveals Renewed Asian Interest

The IMEX Group revealed strong Asian demand for its May IMEX show in Frankfurt. “We currently have double the amount of confirmed buyers from this region compared to the same period last year. This is driven by demand from Korea and China which lifted its Covid travel restrictions at the start of the year, as well as continued growth in the Indian market,” said IMEX Group CEO Carina Bauer. 

IMEX has confirmed buyers from major brands such as AXA, LG, Samsung and Hyundai will be attending the show. It expects numbers to continue growing as intermediaries seek to bring additional buyers. The supplier side is also looking strong, with several regional exhibitors increasing their presence at the show.

China’s Trade Show Sector Eager to Leave Covid Behind

As the travel industry eagerly waits for travel from China to fully resume, the latest UFI Global Exhibitor Barometer points to a challenging reality. While the data was collected as Beijing announced the end of its hugely unpopular zero-Covid policy, it is clear that China’s trade show sector won’t fully recover in 2023.

According to the report, overall revenue for Chinese companies hit an average of 41 percent of 2019 levels in 2022. The expectation for this year is for revenues to hit 63 percent. Not surprisingly, the removal of Covid travel restrictions is the bigger barrier to business recovery. A welcoming of digital event elements is also clear. Over three-quarters of respondents (78 percent) believe that trade shows will push toward hybrid events with more digital elements in the coming years.