A few weeks ago (before California’s Shelter in Place), I was driving from San Diego to the Anaheim Convention Center for the Natural Product Expo West. Five minutes away from the convention center, I received the news that the show was canceled. This was shocking news. After that, cancellations were being announced daily and it continues to escalate.
Today, most of us have realized that this is much more serious going beyond trade shows. Yet, you want to plan ahead and determine your marketing strategy for the upcoming year. So, what can we expect? We have to start with understanding who’s involved in the industry.
One of the players in the industry are the show organizers, also called show producers. In the United States, associations and for-profit media companies make up the majority and most of their revenue comes from producing trade shows. But exhibitors rarely deal with the show organizers, since they hire a show contractor to perform and manage labor. The biggest show contractors in the U.S. are Freeman and GES.
So, how does a show owner decide where to locate their trade show? That’s were Visitor and Convention Bureaus (VCB’s) come in. who try to prove why the show producers should choose their city and venue. VCB’s are either at the country, state, or city level. They profit since events bring in visitors who will spend money in their cities, pay taxes on hotel rooms, which results in a boost of the local economy.
Besides show producers, show contractors and VCB’s profiting from the industry, we also have convention centers, hotels, restaurants, suppliers, keynote speakers and advertising/marketing/PR agencies. So, who has the highest stakes and the most say? The answer is both show producers and cities.
What can we expect to happen then? As many of the show producers are multi-billion-dollar companies and most of their revenue comes from trade shows, they’re very incentivized to get shows going as soon as possible. Also, it’s very unlikely that they would run out of money. Therefore, as soon as the government eases travel and gathering restrictions, trade shows will be back.
We have not experienced a situation like COVID-19 before, but some similarities can be seen with the financial crisis of 2008 in which exhibitors took a big hit. We can expect to see a decrease in small- and mid-size companies attending events, as they will either go out of business or can no longer afford to exhibit.
Another consequence likely to happen is that demand will be greater than supply. Many suppliers will go out of business and experts working in field will have to look for other opportunities. Prices will be affected, and exhibitors will have to scramble to get everything finished on time.
It’s not a question about IF trade shows will be back, it’s a question about WHEN. No one knows the answer, but most people in the industry believes that trade shows will open again in the fall. It sounds very reasonable considering how much cities and states benefits.
So, what do we do in the meantime? Stay healthy, positive, afloat, and try to plan as much as possible so we’re ready for what’s about to come.