The 2017 global figures for the exhibition industry5 min read

The latest 2017 UFI Global Exhibition Barometer is available! Led by the Global Association of the Exhibition Industry and supported by all the major regional trade fairs and shows associations, the UFI every year, contacts hundreds of event organisers and professionals across the world to ask them about the performance of their events, current issues facing their sectors as well as the impact of the digitisation.


We all know that getting accurate data about the exhibition industry is a tough task. For instance, how many trade fairs take place worldwide every year? If you have the answer please do get in touch with me. I have been searching for this number for years and all I have is an insight from a 2007 UFI report which counts around 30,000 trade fairs worldwide (exhibition space > 500 sqm). But 2007 was 10 years ago. So when we have serious and accurate data, this will be invaluable. The UFI Global Exhibition Barometer first appeared in 1999 and gives us the most complete and reliable overview of our industry. Let’s take a closer look…


The global exhibition industry is performing strongly, but not in all markets


Our industry is doing fine. Now, that’s something we can say without a doubt. From the graph we can see, it has experienced steady growth since even before the 2008 financial crisis. Year after year, between 55% and 80% of event organisers forecast an increase in growth for the following 18 months. This year, we can see that Europe and Asia Pacific show extremely positive forecasts for 2017 and 2018 with a very high level of participants forecasting an increase for the next quarter (more than 80% for Europe and 85% for Asia-Pacific).


In summary,  Europe, historically the leading market for the exhibition industry, still holds this position and boasts the lion’s share of major international exhibition in a plethora of different sectors, most notably in Germany. As for Asia – Pacific, we clearly see that the region is riding a wave since 2015. This is a result of the growth in APAC’s domestic economies. Local industry performs well year on year and investment in infrastructure is paying off and encouraging the development of new fairs.


In comparison, the Americas and Middle East & Africa show less favourable predictions that are prone to fluctuation. Only 66% of American event organisers forecast upcoming growth and this falls to an average of 58% for Middle-East and Africa with a serious drop in the second half of 2017.



There are 4 big issues which organisers particularly care about


Just like previous years, organisers seems to prioritise 4 main issues affecting their business:


  • “The state of the economy in home market”: 25% of participants claim it’s a major issue
  • “Competition within the industry”: 21%
  • “Global economic development”: 20%
  • “Internal challenges”: 15%


One striking fact is that “Competition within the industry” increased by +4% compared to last year. It means that the number of events addressing the same sector are increasing, but above all, it means that attendees and exhibitors are more volatile than ever. This is particularly true in Europe where 23% of participants noted this trend.


On the contrary and with no surprise, in the Middle-East and Africa, which is already far behind other regions, the main issue is the “State of the home market” according to 29% of participants. Indeed, the political instability and the economic difficulties of many countries there prevent growth and development in the exhibitions industry.


Question: Identify the three most important issues for your business in the coming year


Digitisation is slowly taking over the industry


This year, a brand new section of the Barometer has been dedicated entirely to Digital. The participants have been asked seven specific questions related to this topic.


Question: Identify action(s) that you implemented in your company.


The results show that digital hasn’t really impacted the way companies in the event industry work yet. Indeed, only 23% of the participants claimed that they developed a digital transformation strategy for the whole company. What we do see however is that, for most of these companies, digital is seen primarily as a way to improve the overall exhibition experience by adding digital services or products.


When we look closer, it appears that the level of digitisation varies a lot from one country to another. Indeed, the UK, Germany, China and the US are clearly leading the pack. In Germany for instance, 100% of companies have launched a digital service / product around their exhibition. As regards having dedicated personnel like a Chief Digital Officer in upper management, China and the UK are the most advanced with 33% and 31% respectively. And finally, the US and the UK are the regions where the highest percentage of organisers launched digital products not directly related to existing exhibitions which is in our view probably the best marker of the creeping influence of digitisation.


This Barometer is pure gold from an insights point of view for anyone who works in the exhibition industry. This is most reliable, accurate and up-to-date data about our global industry. Knowledge is power as they say. The details of the study are available in the official report here. It shows detailed results for 14 geographical areas including 10 majors countries.


For those  interested in gathering insights on the exhibition industry, we are about to launch a free dedicated global events discovery platform. Tradefest is a digital space where exhibitors and attendees can choose their next events based on trustable and unbiased reviews left by the community.


Visit our website and see for yourself 🙂