For those of us who have been in the exhibition industry for many years, we have seen the good and the bad times. No matter what part of the exhibition industry you are involved in, you in some way, feel the ripples and effects of these ups and downs.
For those who are new to the industry or maybe have not yet experienced the rollercoaster, don’t worry, your time will come. As we approach the 8 year anniversary of one of the most horrific events in history, we do reflect on the global impact that day had on not only personal lives, but how that day influenced business and how it is conducted now. Sept. 11th was huge, in so many ways, but let’s look at how it changed the exhibition industry.
With 9/11 came stricter airline rules and regulations. Not only was the TSA formed and Homeland Security to enforce passenger screening, security, and safety to air travelers, but did you know how it effected your cargo? That’s right, you think having to take off your shoes and scanning all your bags was bad, how about your million dollar machine that needed to fly from Atlanta to Singapore? Airlines tightened down on everything from what you listed on your documents, to things such as if your crate was heat treated and fumigated for bugs, or even if you have locks on your case. More airlines declined to take exhibition materials and some even stopped freight service to some countries. It used to be fairly easy to send smaller cargo on passenger planes, that all changed too as restrictions prevented many from making the trip. How did this make ripples in the exhibition industry you say? Well, plain and simple; new regulations made it harder and more expensive which meant less shipping to tradeshows and events.
Less people traveled after 9/11 as budgets were slashed across the board too. It was a huge blow to the exhibits industry. There was one industry that did not see a huge decline though: the aerospace and defense industry. More on that later. But, along came 2003 and the world was hit with SARS. The disease that swept through Asia and had a huge impact on global business, travel, and the world economy. Just as we were getting back on track after 9/11, this hit and caused problems for a while. This too caused crack downs from governments, transportation providers, and even vendors and suppliers. The exhibits industry quickly saw shows and events being canceled due to lack of participation and health concerns.
So then that takes us to now. Where in the US we are still officially in a recession, being hit hard by unemployment, a weak dollar, and not much spending to stimulate the economy. The exhibit industry started to see a decline towards the end of 2008 as less custom builds were being placed, rental numbers were stronger, and marketing budgets were slashed left and right. In March of 2009, the Center for Exhibition Industry Research (CEIR) published a report regarding the decline of the exhibit industry and how it was it’s first, since 2002. The report can be seen here. The end of 2008 was not good for many within the industry as it resulted in less participation for organizers and show producers, less booths and graphics for exhibit houses, which translates to less labor for I&D companies, which also meant less work for Union Labor, and less freight for transportation and logitics companies. I think you follow me here now. This all trickled into 2009 too as we saw companies closing their doors, cuting back, and consolidating. Just as things came back up, it went back down.
But, in July, the UFI published their 5th annual report on Asia. This report showed that in 2008, the trade fair and exhibition industry had expanded by 8.7% despite a weak global economy. Great news, for a region of the world, where was once hit hard with SARS, had a huge increase in exhibition participation and sizes. Asia and especially China has been the hot spot and in the smaller regions within China; the up and coming places to be. While the US and other regions such as Europe find it hard to attract exhibitions and participants, China seems to be drawing them in.
Which takes us to today, right at the start of the 4th quarter of the year and when exhibitions traditionally slow down. So now we look back and ahead at the same time, using data from earlier in the year to forecast and also plan for next year. Yet, another report comes via the UFI stating (via TSW) that 3 out of 4 of the world’s tradeshow organizers state that revenue had declined in the first half of the year compared to last year. In addition, 4 out of 5 anticipate revenue declines for the second half of the year. Some believe we will see a recovery in 2011 or later.
The exhibition industry is not going to fade away. It is going to evolve and adapt to change with the global economy and times. Are we ever going to see the “good old days” of easy and free spending, huge expense accounts, and no quesetions asked? Most likely not, but it does mean that business is going to continue but will be conducted differently. Smaller shows perhaps, different locations, virtual events, private events, and more. Participating at exhibitions are still beneficial and key to conducting business and gaining new business, but it’s just a matter of doing smarter and better.