Eventprofs Chat: What's the future for exhibitions?

Managing director of BCD M&E UK Nigel Cooper talks to C&IT about the value of trade show exhibitions versus smaller, targeted forums.

Nigel Cooper of BCD Meetings and Events
Nigel Cooper of BCD Meetings and Events

IMEX, IBTM, ILTM, Confex, C&IT Forum, Agency Forum, Confec, Red, Blue, Green, Meetings Show, Frankfurt, Vegas, Barcelona, Melbourne, Berlin, even ocean liners, the choice and variety of exhibitions and forums is greater and wider today than ever before. I genuinely think a hotel sales person could literally spend 50 weeks of the year meeting hosted buyers. All this in a digital age where web sites and virtual meetings were supposed to have ended the need for face to face meetings.


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Clearly the forecasters of doom were wrong, but has there been any change? Have small, local focused forums impacted on the big exhibitions? Visitor numbers to the recent IMEX and IBTM shows would suggest otherwise. I personally find the choice interesting. Small forums are supposed to deliver a more tailored and personal experience. Like-minded people talking about like-minded subjects and two days of meeting with a limited group of exhibitors. If well organised and properly supported, it's a powerful proposition.

But what if who you want to see isn’t there? Do you know who you want to see? If you knew who you wanted to see wouldn’t you just call them? This is the argument for the large exhibition – the world under one roof. Learn, explore, discover, and connect. This is achievable with a thousand exhibitors representing DMC’s, hotels, aviation specialists, cruise lines, speciality rail services, CVB’s, convention centres, travel agents, app builders, technology platforms and even countries. When the world is under one roof you have the opportunity to discover the new.

So which is better and can both survive? This presumes that one is a threat to the other, but perhaps we should look outside of the industry for a picture of the future.

The first London motor show was in 1896. The car market is mature and yet constantly evolving with new technology and an ever-increasing volume as developing world GDP and personal wealth improves – the same is true in the travel and events environment with the fastest growing groups and exhibitions markets in Asia. With this dramatic change in regional market importance, so has come a change in exhibition investment policy with two of the top 10 motor shows in China and old world originals like London now outside the top 10.

Will we see the same with event exhibitions? In 10 years’ time will we look back at having a plethora of shows, forums and exhibitions on our doorstep in Europe as a once golden but now forgotten age? 

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