Exhibition Industry Remains at a Standstill, According to CEIR

Andrea Doyle, Senior News Editor
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DALLAS – COVID-19 has hit the exhibition industry, and it has hit hard. According to the Center for Exhibition Industry Research’s (CEIR) Total Index, the industry remained at a grinding halt in the third quarter of 2020, with approximately 97% of originally scheduled events cancelled. As a result, the Total Index, a measure of exhibition industry performance, registered a 98.1% decline from 2019.

“This year has been an exercise in adapting and innovating for the exhibition industry, and it has learned a lot from the experience. This process will continue as we make our way to a full recovery,” said Cathy Breden, CMP, CAE, CEM, CEIR CEO, about this unprecedented year.

The industry experienced a more moderate year-over-year decline of real (inflation-adjusted) GDP at 2.9%, which increased at an annual rate of 33.1% from the previous quarter. The latter had been somewhat boosted by continued reopening of businesses, strong residential investment, and online and other consumer goods purchases.

Despite the economic rebound enjoyed in the third quarter, the exhibition industry remained largely stalled given the persistence of COVID-19. A second wave of the virus in July prompted a number of states to pull back on reopening their economies and impose stringent group size limitations, all contributing to a lack of trade show activity. About 3% of events did take place as mostly small, regional events.

Related. CEIR “Predicts” the Future 

The continuance of stringent rules imposed by states and municipalities, as well as ongoing “no travel” corporate policies, caused most events scheduled for the third quarter to be canceled or postponed to 2021. These are cited as the top two reasons why business-to-business (B2B) exhibition organizers say they were forced to cancel, according to CEIR. These policies mute participation potential. Other opinion polls tracking consumer sentiment record reluctance to travel, with air travel continuing to remain well below 2019 levels.

Excluding the cancelled events during the third quarter, the Total Index dropped by 36.1%. All exhibition metrics posted sharp year-over-year declines. Attendees suffered the largest fall of 57.6% and exhibitors decreased 29.2%, whereas net square feet (nsf) tumbled 26.3%. Real revenues declined 24.6% from a year ago.

Reach Cathy Breden at (972) 687-9242 or cbreden@ceir.org.