What are the differences between trade fairs in the UK and France?5 min read

The UK and France: so near and yet so far

The channel measures 20.7 miles at its shortest point between the Pas de Calais and Dover and is all that separates these two great countries. Paris and London are a meagre 214 miles apart. French holds a heavy influence on the English language, while London is technically the 6th largest city in France in terms of number of French inhabitants, even Emmanuel Macron, France’s recently newly elected president made the pilgrimage there to woo French voters. Hundreds of years of mutual history are shared between both nations but culturally they could not be further apart, especially when it comes to doing business. In terms of the events industry, what are the implications and key differentiators?


Comparing the Best Venues in London and Paris

Let’s take a look first of all at the venues for trade fairs in the capitals:


  1. Parc des Expositions: encompasses 115 hectares and has 246,000 m2 of convention space in eight halls.
  2. CNIT La Defense: 20 933 m2 of convention space
  3. Porte de Versailles: 228 211 m2 of convention space in eight halls

Paris there is Parc des Expositions at Villepinte: a stone’s throw from Charles De Gaulle airport, which is practical for international exhibitors and visitors who want to jet in and jet out.



  1. ExCeL London: 100 hectares overall but only 44,546 m2 of exhibition space.
  2. Olympia: 39,000 m2 of exhibition space
  3. Tobacco Dock: 16,000 m2 of exhibition space

ExCeL London is best accessed from London city airport so not as handy as its counterpart in Paris for international travellers.  It’s much smaller than Parc des Expositions in Paris.  A better equivalent in the UK can be found in Birmingham (National Exhibition Centre:  247 hectares or 2.54 km2 in total with 20 interconnected halls)


A snapshot of the events industry in both countries respectively

In terms of the volume of trade fairs, there are 1,450 trade shows in France, throughout 116 different locations potentially made up of 526 different sectors.  In the UK, there is a total of 1,029 trade shows in 71 different locations which could be categorised into 470 different sectors. That’s a big difference. In terms of its size France is of course a much larger country than the UK so there’s a lot more space, especially for purpose built exhibition centres.  It’s geographic position at the heart of Europe, sharing borders with Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, Italy, Switzerland and the size of its economy are perhaps the main reasons behind this gap.


Digital: a window into the challenges you might face as an exhibitor

But what is exhibiting at trade fairs like in France for a UK business or vice versa? There’s the language barrier of course. In terms of culture the French generally like to buy French, much more so than the UK or anywhere else in Europe.

Let’s take a look at a particularly dynamic sector like digital and more particularly A/B testing / conversion rate optimisation (CRO). In France there are 2 companies that battle for market share, both French. While in the UK, competition is between six companies plus a few more. These companies are from France, the US, India and the UK respectively. It’s the same story for analytics and tag attribution management. If we hold digital up as a window into other industries in France, it seems to be a tight knit community that’s hard to break into. Whist in the UK the market is much more open but competition is intense. Both countries have their own unique set of challenges for those looking to get a slice of the cake and a one size fits all strategy clearly won’t work.


Wrap yourself in the flag – Quick tips for getting started:

  • Exhibit with native sales people: language barrier aside, understanding the cultural nuances of an international market can reduce barriers to entry
  • Have a local presence: ‘Where are you based?’ potential clients will feel reassured if they know you’re ‘only down the road’. For minimal investment you can get a UK number and a virtual office
  • Find local partners that can vouch for you: It always helps to have friends and allies
  • Use client references effectively: Signing your first local clients is invaluable. Potential clients will naturally feel reassured. If you can try and avoid client references that no one will have heard of.


Implementing an international events strategy

Finding the key trade fairs and conferences in your industry is key but this is also the trickiest part. For companies looking to expand internationally and grow global, key information and data essential to finding the right events are sorely lacking.  The events industry still relies heavily on word of mouth and pre existing customer behaviour. The investment required to exhibit at a trade fair is considerable especially for start ups so expenditure has to be made wisely. Despite the rise of new technologies, B2B companies still consider trade fairs as the most efficient channel to do business but it’s also the most challenging sales channel. Implementing and optimising a strategy is no easy task.


At Tradefest, we are working hard to build the world’s number one events discovery platform for the exhibition industry to help companies to grow local or global. After Tradefest is launched our users will be able to browse through recommended events, read reviews and gain insights from other professionals. If you’re interested, you can sign up here to get early access. Over 1,000 companies have signed up so far, including major brands such as Google, IBM, EY, PWC and Reed Exhibitions. Join them now, it’s free 🙂