The Events Industry Council tells us that trade fairs, exhibitions and conferences annually involve >1.5Bn participants across 180 countries, employing 26M people supporting $1.5Tn of GDP. By May 2020 COVID-19 shuttered >2,600 such events, with 1,000's more to come, and no-end insight. The chances are that you, like me, were one of those participants, and we contributed to these numbers. Well, its all over now, in this social-distance imposed new online normal!
One of the earliest major fairs to be pulled was the World Mobile Congress in Barcelona scheduled for Feb 2020, quickly followed by cancellations of the International Tourism Fair in Berlin, then the Geneva Motor Show, and so it goes on. Event cancellations cross all sectors, all sizes and all locations; aerospace, to medical, via broad industrial, to beer, books and beekeeping (three of my favorites), in Europe, Asia and the America's.
Digital alternatives are already stepping in to fill the gap. Three noteworthy examples include Art Basel in Hong Kong (03.2020) that opened online viewing rooms, while the Gamers Developers Conference (GDC) in San Francisco and Microsoft's annual Developers Build gathering, both transformed into “digital events”. This is, yet again, the moment of Social Media as all the main platforms have benefited from huge user surges, in total members and engagement. Looking forward, this trend looks likely to grow as the future leans more on our digital experience, in lieu of in-person events.
Meetexpo, the professional, independent and global expo review portal, tells us that “Currently 2,602 fairs and exhibitions worldwide: 1,536 in Europe, 664 in Asia, 295 in North America, 78 in South America, 50 in Africa, 26 in Australia”, have been postponed or cancelled. This does not count all those thousands of small and local events that you, and I, know of personally. The direct and indirect societal and economic costs will only begin to be understood in the years ahead.
The World Mobile Congress estimated over $560 million in lost revenues. Germany, 2nd to the USA in terms of welcoming trade fairs, exhibitions and conferences with >410 million visitors annually, is a canary in this coalmine. Illustrating the impending burgeoning costs of this in-person gathering cancellation crisis, the German exhibition and trade fair business lobby group AUMA, “estimated that visitors and companies attending Germany's 185 most important annual trade shows spend a total of $16 billion” plus a further $30 billion that gets pumped into the local economy. AUMA reckons trade fairs provide 230,000 jobs in Germany alone, of which 100,000 are full-time positions. Another example in the USA, is the closure in March 2020, of the annual International Housewares Association trade show in Chicago. The event was projected to greet 56,000 visitors, with 47,000 booked hotel nights, but now estimated at $77 million in lost revenues. Extrapolating the numbers, and we begin to get an insight into the magnitude of the economic meltdown, and job losses. Our thoughts, and best wishes are with all those companies, small businesses, sole-traders and individuals who are directly impacted and suffering.
For digital experiences we can look to the likes of Zoom (blossoming from 10 million to 200 million daily users in just three months). Facebook is also stepping in and up: no surprises there. When the annual 3-day Gamers Developers Conference (GDC) in San Francisco was cancelled, Facebook co-opted aspects of the GDC events and delivered a series of digital experiences, including video conferences, webinars and online Q&A sessions. Meanwhile at the annual Microsoft Build event, slated for May 19-21, the company's website tells us:
“The safety of our community is top priority. In light of global health concerns due to COVID-19 and related government actions in Washington State, we will deliver our annual Microsoft Build conference for developers as a digital experience, in lieu of an in-person event. Refunds will be issued to all registrants. We look forward to bringing together our community of developers in this new digital format to learn, connect, and code together. Stay tuned for more details to come”.
Microsoft Teams, of course, is their “chat, collaboration and video conferencing app” with daily active user count rising more than 37% in one week in March 2020, from 32 million to 44 million users globally.
Another important player, LogMeIn (GoToMeeting, GoToWebinar…) for online meetings, training, webinars, conferencing and so much more, stated in 03.2020 that “usage of its remote-access tools jumped as much as 300% in the past week”, and that their video-conferencing and meeting tools are up X10, since 01.2020. It’s an offline, to online new world order.
LinkedIn, owned by Microsoft, tells us that: in the 3 months to 04.2020, total members grew 15M to 690M, active usage in that quarter is up 26%, conversations between its members grew 55% in 03.2020 (compared to 03.2019), comments on the broadcasts up 272%. LinkedIn Learning is a measure of user intentions, as in 04.2020 members swotted away 7.7M hours, compared to 4M in 03.2020, up 83%. You can be sure that learning is going to be put to good use, for online networking, meeting and doing business.
We at IBT Online had been looking forward to exhibiting and presenting at two events in the spring of 2020: the annual PBExpo an “interactive environment that integrates the aviation, aerospace and defense industries with technology and eCommerce solutions”, in Miami, and then again, as part of our Online Global educational mission, at the NASBITE “International Mission: To advance global business practice, education and training” in Annapolis. Both events have been cancelled. Like many companies, our management looked at 2020 with agendas full of trade fairs, exhibitions and conferences. All are now on-hold, postponed, or cancelled. We share your business development concerns and challenges, as we leverage online alternatives to maintain our sales, brand and business growth.
Nevertheless, as a company focused on the online space, staffed by digital natives, we are privileged in understanding, and being equipped to take advantage of the digital opportunities presented. We worked alongside our partners, PartsBase, organizers of the above mentioned PBExpo, to deliver for the all the exhibitors and registered attendees, a new digital format and experience, facilitating networking, encouraging discussions, informational exchanges and business development opportunities. Reed Exhibitions is one of the world’s largest trade fair organizers (>500 events across 43 industry sectors, ) “Where business happens”, and businesses “start conversations, face to face meetings, and grow internationally”. Today, its an online world, business happens, conversations start and people meet face to face, online.