Photo Credit: UFI


UFI, the Global Association of the Exhibition Industry, has released the latest edition of its flagship Global Barometer research, which takes the pulse of the industry. Results highlight the severe impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the exhibition industry worldwide, in 2020. There are also positive signs regarding a quick recovery in 2021.

Globally, between April and August 2020, more than half of all companies reported no activity. This situation changed from September, where the majority of companies declared some operations, at reduced levels for most. Looking ahead to 2021, the share of companies expecting a return to “normal” activity is expected to grow from 10% in January to 37% in June.

These results vary depending on region and are primarily driven by the “re-opening date” of exhibitions. In all regions, most companies expect both local and national exhibitions to re-open by the end of June 2021, with international exhibitions resuming in the second half of the year. Company operations also include, while face-to-face events are not possible, working into the development of digital solutions. When asked what element would most help with the “bounce back” of exhibitions, the majority of companies ranked “readiness of exhibiting companies and visitors to participate again” (64%), “lift of current travel restrictions” (63%) and “lift of current public policies that apply locally to exhibitions” (52%) as key factors.

Photo Credit: UFI

As expected, the “impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the business” is considered the most important business issue (stated by 29% of companies, a 2% increase on six months ago). The “impact of digitalisation” (11%) and “competition with other media” (7%) have also increased (+1% and +2% respectively), while the “state of the economy in the home market” (19%) and “global economic developments” (16%) have decreased, but remain amongst the top three concerns.

In terms of future exhibition formats, global results indicate that 64% (compared to 57% six months ago) are confident that “COVID-19 confirms the value of face-to-face events”, indicating an expectation that the sector will bounce back quickly.

Kai Hattendorf

UFI Managing Director and CEO

“The message from the global industry is clear: quite simply, 2020 was horrible. The pandemic stopped most activities around the world for several months, and, globally, our industry’s revenue dropped by almost three quarters. But, as the Global Barometer shows, 2021 should see a significant bounce back, with global revenues expected to double, pending markets re-opening and clarity on regulations. We will ‘build back’ even better, and while the industry will remain, primarily, a face-to-face marketing channel, digital offers will evolve with new patterns,” says Kai Hattendorf, UFI Managing Director and CEO.

Photo Credit: UFI

Size and scope

This latest edition of UFI’s bi-annual industry survey was concluded in December 2020 and includes data from 457 companies in 64 countries and regions.

The study also includes outlooks and analysis for 24 countries and regions – Argentina, Australia, Brazil, China, Colombia, France, Germany, Hong Kong, India, Italy, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Peru, Russia, Singapore, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Thailand, Turkey, the UAE, the UK and the US – as well as an additional five aggregated regional zones.

“We sincerely thank all companies who took part in this study. The results from 29 markets and regions provide strong insights for assessing both the impact of the crisis and future perspectives. We also welcome AFEP and UNIMEV, who partnered with us for this edition, resulting in our first ever specific country profiles for Peru and France,” says Christian Druart, UFI Research Manager.

Operations since 2020 – reopening exhibitions

Results show that the periods when most companies reported “no activity” in 2020 were limited to March-June for the Asia-Pacific region, April-June for North America, and April-September for Central and South America and the Middle East and Africa. In Europe, there was an initial period of inactivity in April-August, followed by another period in November-December.

Key business issues

While the “impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the business” is the key business issue across all regions, “global economic developments” are ranked higher in the Middle East and Africa (23% of companies) than in other regions. The “impact of digitisation” is ranked higher in North America (15%) and Europe (14%) than other regions.

Further insight by type of activity, for three main segments – organisers, venues and service providers – highlights a difference in the fourth most important issue, with organisers indicating “impact of digitisation”, venues indicating “internal challenges” and service providers indicating “regulatory/stakeholders’ issues”.

Future exhibition formats

The report also highlights two significant regional differences in relation to possible trends driving the future format of exhibitions:

– The claim “COVID-19 confirms the value of face-to-face events” was more widely agreed with in the Middle East and Africa (70% of companies), the Asia-Pacific region (69%) and Europe (67%), than in North America (55%) and Central and South America (53%).

– While, there were stronger opposing views for the claim “virtual events replacing physical events”, with 74% of companies in Europe disagreeing, compared to just 57% of companies from North America.

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