Expo Centre Sharjah explores reality of global exhibitions sector post-COVID-19

Photo: WAM

A recent study by the Expo Centre Sharjah on the reality of the global exhibitions sector and the prospects amid the repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic has shown that 74 percent of those participated in the study underlined that virtual shows are seen as important complementary to the physical exhibitions, while 60 percent said that online exhibitions will substitute physical ones in challenging times.

The study was conducted in cooperation with GRS Research & Strategy, Italian strategic research and consulting firm focusing on research, analysis, and strategy for the exhibition and large event industry. GRS is also a partner of "Explori", and, along with it, holds the biggest data-set of event performances in the world.

Around 60 percent of the participants believe that virtual exhibitions would replace their physical counterparts, and from the standpoint of 54 percent of those surveyed, virtual shows will pose a threat to the direct events in the medium and long terms.

As many as 500 participants from 50 countries from around the world took part in the survey, including exhibition organisers, exhibitors, and suppliers, where they highlighted the major challenges they face in the current circumstances.

The decrease in an exhibitor's budget came first among these challenges by about 41.6 percent, travel restrictions came second by 36.2 percent, virtual exhibitions 3.3 percent, and the need to focus on other marketing channels by six percent.

In response to a question about the most important issues faced by exhibition organisers due to the cancellation or postponement of events, travel difficulties came first with 26.9 percent, lack of liquidity and revenue came second with 19.4 percent, conflict of dates of the postponed and prescheduled exhibitions with 14.9 percent, and increased costs with 5.2 percent.

A part of the survey focused on actions taken by the companies operating in the exhibitions sector to counter COVID-19 impacts, where 65.2 percent of the companies mentioned that they shifted to virtual events such as workshops and webinars, 45.4 percent said they organised online exhibitions alongside digital workshops, 43.6 percent have created digital solutions to meet their customer’s needs, while 11.3 percent stated that no action has been taken yet.

With predictions ranging from most to more likely about the possibility of organising future events in the Middle East and North Africa, 56 percent of the participants have shown their optimism for Q4 of 2020 compared with Q3 by 18 percent.

In terms of business recovery after COVID-19, 50 percent of the participants from the Middle East and North Africa predicted that by 2022 the events will attract a turnout equal to what was witnessed in 2019, and 26 percent of them selected second half of 2021, while the first half of 2021 was chosen by 21 percent.

For the COVID-19-post revenue recovery, the participants went with the second half of 2021 and 2022 by 35 percent for each, while 21 percent went with the first half of 2021 for economic and revenue recovery. Around 79.3 percent of those surveyed were somehow interested in virtual events, while 20.7 percent were uninterested. At the digital transformation level, 71 percent of them pointed out that they communicated with digital services providers to discuss the prospects for cooperation in the digital transformation of their businesses.

In response to a question about the benchmarks which are equal in both virtual and physical exhibitions, 56.8 percent participants chose market knowledge, 53.2 percent chose participation in conferences and seminars, 39.2 percent chose product display solutions, and 29.4 percent chose the lookout for new customers and suppliers.

Speaking on the study outcomes, Saif Mohammed Al Midfa, CEO of Expo Centre Sharjah, said, "These results expressly underline that direct events will remain in place. But they need to adapt to the new reality by harnessing digital services to enhance customer experience, organizing more efficient and safer events."

"We should take into account that the study was conducted in a transitional stage, in which everything remains unclear. But after lifting travel restrictions, increasing awareness about safety and preventive measures, and using modern technologies, we could see the sector return to its previous growth levels by the year 2021," Al Midfa concluded.

The UAE was ranked fourth among the most participating states in this analytical study, where China came first followed by Germany and Italy, while the United States came in fifth place.

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