What Will the Future of Exhibitions Look Like?

Author: Convene Editors       

Cathy Breden, CAE, CMP

We talked to Cathy Breden, CMP, Chief Executive Officer of the Center for Exhibition Industry Research (CEIR), about how the exhibitions sector performed in 2017, what she expects for 2018, and the one trend business event organizers should keep an eye on: 

Did anything surprise you about the exhibitions sector’s performance in 2017?

I am happy to report that there were no real surprises with the performance of the CEIR Index in Q2, and I am especially pleased that the Index had a year-over-year increase of 2.9 percent. If there was a surprise, it was that Q2 outperformed GDP, which came in at 2.2 percent — which had not happened since the last quarter of 2016. The underlying fundamentals of the economy remain strong, which is a positive sign for the exhibitions industry.

Just like any economic forecast, there is a risk to it. In this instance, it is that the oil-and-gas industry took a hit from Hurricane Harvey. Oil and gas falls into the “raw materials” sector of the Index. This is the sector that had a year-over-year decline of -0.2 percent in Q4 2016. In all likelihood, this sector will impact the performance of the Index.

However, other sectors are performing well, and consumer confidence remains high. We expect the Total Index — a measurement of number of exhibitors, net square feet of exhibit space sold, professional attendance, and real revenue — to average close to the forecast of 2.4-percent year-over-year growth by year-end.

What can we expect from the exhibitions sector in 2018?

There are always risks to the performance forecast. Some of those risks include President Trump’s policies, EU politics, competition for power with other countries, global regulations, and terrorism. The U.S. economy is strengthening, and it is possible the Total Index could rise by 2.5 to 3 percent in 2018.

What is one trend that meeting planners should be keeping any eye on in 2018 and beyond?

The exhibitions industry operates in a global marketplace, and there are a variety of risks that could impact overall performance, as discussed above. In addition to the CEIR Index, CEIR also monitors where corporate marketers are focusing their marketing tactics. In a study conducted in 2016, The Changing Environment of Exhibitions, corporate marketers indicated that exhibitions is a primary marketing tactic (77 percent), and this ranking is the same as when we conducted the study in 2011. In addition, the study found that exhibitions continue to deliver a unique value in helping to reach key targets.

In terms of what exhibition organizers need to focus on in 2018, they need to know their exhibitors’ objectives and to help them in accomplishing those objectives. Selling exhibit space is no longer just a transaction — it’s a partnership. Organizers need to focus on delivering attendees who fit the objectives of the exhibitors, and of course provide the customized experience attendees want.