Meeting Mentor Magazine

December 2018

Slowdown Ahead for the Exhibitions Industry?

After 25 consecutive quarters of year-on-year growth, the exhibitions industry experienced a modest decline during the fourth quarter of 2016, according to the CEIR Total Index, produced by the Center for Industry Research (CEIR).

All exhibition metrics in the fourth quarter posted year-on-year losses, except net square feet, which gained 1.3 percent. Driven mainly by a 1.8 percent drop in real revenues, the industry performance overall saw a year-on-year decline of 0.4 percent.

The CEIR Index shows performance in 2016 varied considerably by industry. The best performing sectors were “Food” and “Building, Construction, Home and Repair,” which gained 5.8 percent and 5.2 percent, respectively. The weakest sector was “Raw Materials and Science,” which saw a drop of 7.3 percent.

“The decline was a temporal set back as economic fundamentals still point to moderate growth for the exhibitions industry,” said CEIR Economist Allen Shaw, Ph.D., chief economist for Global Economic Consulting Associates, in a statement released with the 2016 fourth quarter Index results.

Peering further into CEIR Index data, business consultant and writer Michael Hart sees trends that may point to bigger dynamic unfolding. In a recent blog post, he pointed to the CEIR Index’s “year-over-year flat attendance growth” and speculated that trends in the larger business world may be play:

“Look at the business news beyond the events industry. Retailers that traditionally have a strong brick-and-mortar presence like Macy’s, Penny’s and Sears are closing stores. Others like Target and Walmart are making huge investments in hopes they can lure shoppers back to their stores. Retailers recognize that today’s consumer is steadily shifting away from onsite experiences to digital transactions. If the events industry is going to attain the lofty expectations CEIR has for it over the next couple of years, it must convince the prospective attendee that there is more value in a face-to-face experience than a digital one.”

Perhaps an even bigger challenge to exhibitions is the pushback against globalism, as reflected in the Brexit vote last year and the popularity of “America First” protectionism that helped elect Donald Trump to the U.S. presidency.

The rapid growth of international trade in the last two decades has fueled the unprecedented growth of the exhibitions industry, reflecting the close correspondence between business patterns and events. With international trade under fire, the exhibitions industry needs to prepare for a possible slowdown in global growth, according to Kai Hattendorf, managing director of UFI, the Global Association for the Exhibitions Industry. From a UFI blog post he wrote last summer:

“The complexities of globalization, and the speed of change makes many people feel that they are being ‘left behind.’ Uncertainty is on the rise, fired up by political campaigning, the recent string of terror attacks around the world, and the British vote on Brexit, to name just a few. One of the challenges we will have to address as an industry is how to prepare and deal with this [reaction against globalization], as one of the driving forces of our industry’s growth seems to lose strength. At the same time, [we need to] support the growth of industries and economies both on the national and international levels. I am confident that as a global industry we have a vital role to play here.”

For anyone wishing to support the global exhibitions industry, opportunity is around the corner. The second annual Global Exhibitions Day will take place on June 7, 2017. Dozens of countries will hold events to mark the day and promote the industry. In the U.S., Global Exhibitions Day will be celebrated as part of the fourth annual Exhibitions Day, also on June 7. In this event industry members come together in Washington D.C. to foster relationships and build awareness with federal legislators and other policy influencers on Capitol Hill. — Regina McGee

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