UFI Takes a Hard Look at the Future of Events – Both Online and In-Person

by | Dec 28, 2020

In 2020 tradeshow organizers, exhibitors and attendees were unwillingly thrown into a massive experiment that essentially explored two things:

  • The impact of an almost total loss of in-person events on their lives and businesses
  • The effectiveness of online events as a replacement for in-person ones

So where did everyone come out on this? The answer to that is critical to the myriad of businesses – including ours – who serve the events industry, and for the marketers who rely on it to achieve many key business objectives. Fortunately, someone took the time to try to answer that question.

The Global Recovery Insights Report 2020
In late summer 2020, the UFI, a leading global industry association, in partnership with Explori, a live event feedback platform, collected 9,000 survey responses from exhibitors and attendees across 30 countries. So far they have summarized their key findings in two press releases. One was released in October and the other in December. Full results will be shared in a virtual conference in January, 2021.

But here’s a summary of what they have shared so far. .

Live Events are Overwhelmingly Preferred
Exhibitors and visitors want to return to on-person, on-site events. There is no evidence of any major intended shift away from in-person events post pandemic.

Exhibitor Spending Will Return Quickly
The survey showed 28% of exhibitors plan to return to pre-COVID spending levels as soon as tradeshows start up again, and that another 53% said they expect spending on in-person events to fully return within 12 months.

Online Events Have a Place but Not as a Replacement for in-Person Ones
Exhibitors have a strong preference for live events – particularly for their strength at networking – and feel that digital events currently don’t provide a good ROI (although this may have changed as exhibitors learned more about them in the ensuing months). At the same time, the study found that visitors have become increasingly comfortable with online events – in part due to the time and cost savings they offer. The big draw of in-person events for both groups are their “social aspects” and their ability to create connections within communities. Study participants, globally, believe that this aspect of events cannot be served effectively by online events.

The UFI and Explori added their own spin to these findings on online events. Sophie Holt, Managing Director at Explori, said: “In the future, digital events will not seek to replicate the in-person experience, but instead leverage their strength at delivering against singular objectives.” Kai Hattendorf, UFI’s Managing Director and CEO, added, “As we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, we should see digital as a major opportunity to enhance the buyer-seller connections we provide.” In short, online won’t replace in-person, but it will be used to augment it, to reach audiences unable to attend live events, or for other unrelated purposes.

In addition to the details it provides the UFI and Explori Global Recovery Insights Report strongly suggests two things:

  • It underlines the clear preference and importance of being able to meet in-person to do business, and the desire of both visitors and exhibitors to do this
  • It offers strong reassurances to organizers, exhibitors, visitors and the wider industry – trying to plan their futures – that in-person events will likely return in strength

Those are encouraging thoughts. So the biggest remaining question is when? Stay tuned for more detail and nuance when the final report is released in January of 2021.