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[MICE TREND] 'Technology innovation' continues amid the growing anticipation of 'face-to-face' exhibition



Increased expectation of possible 'offline exhibitions' in June and September this year

COVID-19 confirmed the value of the 'face-to-face' events

AMEX, key to the recovery of 'face-to-face' is hybrid


As the COVID-19 pandemic limited travels in Korea and abroad, the MICE industry has held events online for over one year. The exhibition industry, having utilized meeting technologies such as online export consultations, e-commerce and more, experienced first-hand the limitations of online innovations the industry has been leveraging. While expectations of face-to-face exhibitions grow, the big trend of technology innovations is expected to continue in the exhibition industry.  

First of all, the outlook of the post-COVID exhibition industry was almost unanimously agreed upon in Korea and abroad. That was revealed in the January edition of Global Barometer, a research report on industry developments within the global exhibition world by UFI, the Global Association of the Exhibition Industry. The Global Barometer is a survey report responded to by 450 associations and organizations worldwide, including MACEOS, FMIC, AEO, and AKEI.


'30% drop' in exhibition industry revenue last year

Even though only half of last year's exhibitions have been held this year due to the COVID-19 outbreak, some global exhibition companies expect to return to the business 'this September'. In such a trend, 37% of the exhibition industry expects the normal level of activities to resume from June this year. The predominant prospect in the field is that local exhibitions will be open from June. If things go as expected, international exhibitions will take a breather by holding exhibitions in a hybrid format using meeting technologies from the second half of the year.

On average globally, revenues for 2020 represented only 28% of the revenues produced for the same period last year according to the UFI report. The revenues are estimated to be 34% of those of 2019 in the first half of 2021 and 58% for all of 2021. More than 52% of the exhibition industry faced 'a considerable financial loss'.

The revenue drop for all of 2020 was highest in Central and South America and the Middle East & Africa as they respectively recorded only 23% and 24% of the 2019 revenue. Asia-Pacific's 2020 revenue was 27% of the 2019 revenue, while Europe 32% and North America 36%.

The exhibition industry shared the view that workforce reduction was an 'inevitable choice.' About 54% of companies had to reduce their workforce, half of them by more than a quarter.

10% of companies stated they would have to close down if there is 'no exhibition business for the next six months.' 57% of the companies, however, answered, "it will be hard, but we can keep our heads above water," while 33% consider they will 'manage.'


26th UFI Global Exhibition Barometer(2021. 1.)


New normal era, the outlook of the exhibition industry?

New normal era. What perspective do people in the exhibition world have on the exhibition business in the coming years? In the same survey, most respondents (64%) anticipated "the sector would bounce back quickly in the new normal era since COVID-19 confirmed the value of face-to-face events." On the other hand, 63% of the respondents predicted: "there will be fewer international 'physical' exhibitions, and overall, fewer participants." 34% answered with reservation by selecting "Not sure yet". There was no disagreement that there would be a push towards hybrid events (80%), but only a minority of 14% envisioned virtual events would replace physical events. 

This UFI survey results show that those related to the global exhibition industry have consensus on the general direction of meeting technology innovations, yet believe the physical events are more effective and anticipate the day when people gather at the exhibition halls with masks off. However, we cannot just wait for the day when exhibitions are held '100% offline' without technological innovation, like before. Vaccinations are taking place rapidly, but experts predict it will take decades before the exhibition industry recovers to the level of pre-COVID era unless the whole world achieves herd immunity.

Wait, or find a better alternative? 


The recent AMEX report on the outlook of the exhibition industry reflects such a reality. According to the 2021 Global Meetings & Events Forecast, hybrid events are the first step towards the recovery of face-to-face events and are expected to be a new normal trend, as virtual and hybrid events have been utilized as alternative formats in the COVID pandemic.

The industry’s efforts for better alternatives were visible in the survey AMEX conducted with people from the global exhibition industry. As for the reason why virtual events seem difficult, most answered 'lacking knowledge and experience (39%)' and 'technical issues(29%)'. It can be interpreted as a cautious expectation that, with the proper support for technologies and experience, innovation in the exhibition field may speed up.

Seoul Tourism Organization is pondering how to continuously support the industry to overcome such a challenge as the industry faces and promotes the new normal exhibition industry. For example, there is a plan to develop a virtual meeting platform, 'Virtual Seoul,' in cooperation with the Korea Exhibition Organizers Association and an 'Online Exhibition Platform' that companies in the industry can always use. An official of the Seoul Tourism Organization said, "We will focus on upgrading Virtual Seoul so the industry can actively host virtual exhibitions this year."