How traditional trade shows will adapt after Covid-19

Mika Baumeister - Traide Fairs.
Mika Baumeister - Traide Fairs.

August 31st, 2020

Tradeshows have been the most important platform to acquire new business and gain new customers. With Covid-19 this will change. Trade shows will remain important, and some of them are already taking place this fall.  However – tradeshows will develop into hybrid formats, applying new digital tools. It’s crucial that all players in the market prepare for this fundamental change.

For many years tradeshows have undoubtably been the number one platform to conduct business including acquiring new customers, maintaining existing customer relationships, reviewing the competition and what’s going on in the industry. The so called “face to face” moment was seen as absolutely irreplaceable. This is the reason why tradeshows continued to grow and no real competition to this business model could be established in the online world for many years.

The current Covid-19 crisis struck and took the industry, our governments, the businesses, and all supply chains by total surprise. I think it is fair to say that since nobody expected such a crisis we had problems at the beginning of the pandemic to understand the scale and the consequences that have resulted out of it.

In 2020 most tradeshows have been cancelled, postponed, and moved into the digital space.  SIAL for example is postponed to October 2022. Anuga is scheduled to take place a year earlier in October 2021. 2020 was written off by almost all show organisers with only a minimal number of tradeshows and conferences happening.

Some tradeshows will take place in fall

However, there is already a strong light shining at the end of the tunnel and we see positive signs that the tradeshow industry will swing back in the months to come. In China for example, tradeshows are happening again. The venue SNIEC in Shanghai has already held more than 20 events since they reopened not too long ago. In Europe, Germany leads the way in reopening tradeshows. Messe Duesseldorf is planning to hold the Caravan tradeshow in September 2020. Furthermore, smaller conferences and events are starting and will likely be officially allowed in the United Kingdom from October onwards. These positive developments could be interrupted by a serious second wave. But even if this happens we can expect that governments learned their lessons and that they impose lockdowns only as local events to minimize the effect on the overall economy.

The growth of a new hybrid tradeshow format 

Whilst these signs are extremely positive, and exhibitors should get ready to join tradeshows again soon, a close look at the changes in the tradeshow industry is important and necessary. We expect that tradeshows will not go back to the “old normal” again. The industry will come back in a different way and tradeshows will look different. The industry is currently investing heavily into digital tools. Tradeshows will develop from pure onsite events into hybrid formats which will also offer additional digital matchmaking tools to enable business before and after the show. We expect that the pure live element will remain the focus of a tradeshow, however this will be supported by digital b2b matchmaking channels. Engagement between exhibitors and visitors will start months before a show and will stay on a high level for months after a show. In the future the quality of a tradeshow will be measured by the quality of exhibitors, visitors and products at the physical event, but more and more by the quality of the quality of business-enabling digital tools which the organiser provides in a hybrid tradeshow format. And this brings another important factor into play: Those exhibitors who have a good command of these new digital tools will be remembered by potential customers and will create new business opportunities.

The need for new digital skills

In summary, we expect the development of tradeshows opening will continue. The industry will be back in the first or second quarter 2021, provided there will be no serious second wave in Europe. Tradeshows will develop into hybrid formats which also means that exhibitors and country pavilions need to develop and increase their digital skills so that they get the full benefit out of the new tradeshow formats in future.

Matthias Tesi Baur, MBB Consulting, London