Half of global exhibition firms expect a quick recovery despite massive fall in activity

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the exhibition industry has been severe, with 85 per cent of companies worldwide reporting a massive fall in activity from March onwards.

The UFI Global Barometer research found that while that overall activity was “normal” in January, this quickly dropped to 15 per cent in March, to reach between 5 per cent and 6 per cent in April, May and June. For both April and May, 73 per cent of companies worldwide declared “no activity”.

With a majority of companies expecting “local” and “national” exhibitions to open again during the second half of 2020, the level of activity is expected to slowly increase, and two companies out of three project at least a “reduced” level of activity in the last quarter of 2020.

In all regions, a majority of companies believe that exhibitions with an international scope will not open until 2021.

Globally, revenues for the first half of 2020 dropped by two thirds on average, compared with the same period last year. Looking at 2020 as a whole, it is currently expected that globally revenues will represent only 39 per cent of those of 2019.

In terms of profits, a strong level of performance was reached in 2019, with 45 per cent of companies declaring an increase of more than 10 per cent for 2019 when compared with 2018. The sharp drop in revenues that occurred in 2020 has led to a loss for 39 per cent of companies, and only 7 per cent of companies currently expect a stable or increased profit for 2020.

While 44 per cent of companies that participated in the research have stopped all of their investments, half (50 per cent) of companies are increasing their investments in digitalisation programmes.

The report shows that 57 per cent are confident that “COVID-19 confirms the value of face-to-face events”, anticipating that the sector will bounce back quickly, whereas 31 per cent are “not sure” and 12 per cent are “not sure at all” or “disagree completely”.

“On the back of an exceptional year in 2019, we are now seeing an unprecedented drop in revenues around the world,” said Kai Hattendorf, UFI managing director and CEO.

“While the industry remains confident that it will bounce back, everyone is aware that this crisis will lead to major changes in the way exhibitions are produced, especially with a push towards more digital elements before, during, and between events.”