The International Association of Exhibitions and Events® (IAEE) introduced its Future Pathways Report as a five year roadmap and springboard for many of the sessions at their annual Expo!Expo! conference –  held virtually December 8-10, 2020. 

In one of the best attended sessions of the IAEE conference, “How Does Your Virtual Event Measure Up To The Latest Industry Trends,” Nancy Drauper, Center for Exhibition Industry Research (CEIR), vice president of research, shared the latest findings from the budding field. 

I attended this and several other sessions with a media pass. 

John Horchner, Editor

Drauper said that it looks like virtual events for trade shows are a detour for now and will merely become ancillary revenue later, never replacing the physical show.  

Gross revenues from members’ virtual events have doubled in the last six months according to survey data. It still averages only 31% of physical events, up from just 13% six months ago. Attendance is still smaller than physical events, a surprising statistic Drauper said. Profitability is possible but 40% of virtual event exhibition organizers have yet to charge for attending an event and roughly 15% continue to lose money.

Conferences may be a different story where education rather than buying is often the primary motivation for attending.

Everyone came with the same question, "what’s going to happen to conventions in the future?" Here's a few industry trends speakers seemed to agree on...

Sourcing: We will become less concerned about securing the most prestigious real estate and more certain that the destination aligns with a group’s values, promotes sustainability, safety and health and offers personalized experiences that will make it worth the trip. In the short term, localization, as in drive-to destinations, will cause smaller places to host more meetings and conventions.

Programming: Large meetings may be exciting and offer some sense of community but for staying power, show organizers will need to re-tool events to facilitate micro-communities as relationships make for stickiness and ward off competition. It will be important that these communities benefit everyone and not just a select few (diversity and inclusion) and once they are successful, will be one more way brand sponsors can have real relationships with the attendees.

Digital: Meetings will use digital not as a separate stand-alone feature, but as glue that binds together two different audiences under the term “hybrid.” It will be woven into the event as it already occurs in life. One organizer mentioned that at a live meeting he hosted, an attendee was watching on the screen the same speaker who stood directly in front. Anyone with teenage children will find this familiar. The industry is ripe for innovations for including digital participants in live events and visa versa.

A TakEAway For ThE future

Relationships are the strength of our industry

Conventions are in a position to leverage technology but should not forget their roots. Happenstance is often as good as the most sophisticated AI. A look around the convention floor is usually better than the fastest filter. The recommendation of an industry friend can be worth more than a thousand online reviews.

Live events deliver an audience that goes beyond content consumption, goes beyond commerce (which some call the holy grail of the future and increasingly controlled by the likes of Amazon and other tech giants), and reaches the highest of all plateaus – relationships, where customers become advocates and industry leaders become mentors and friends.

Advances in digital will be used to enhance the building of real relationships, making attending shows more efficient and fun.