In the past 18 months, there has been an exponential rise in online – or hybrid – events, enabling audiences to participate and engage with an exhibition from anywhere in the world.
Organisers are also producing a huge range of highly engaging digital content, not just at the time of the show, but throughout the entire year, helping them to remain connected with delegates more than ever.
But, despite the benefits of digitalisation, in-person events will always be key. If lockdown has taught us anything, it’s that we crave human interaction. And physical events enable exactly that.
They facilitate thousands of face-to-face conversations that help us understand key industry challenges, opportunities and overall market sentiment.
They also enable people to meet unexpectedly, creating chance encounters that spark innovation, knowledge exchange and lucrative new partnerships in a way that is difficult to replicate online.
It’s easy to look at an event and say, “Why can’t we take that online?”, ignoring the fact that it takes place not just in a venue, but in a vibrant, international city. People attend for more than the exhibition. They come to immerse themselves in another destination, to sample the food, soak in the nightlife, and enjoy shopping, arts and culture.
Physical events engage people across the spectrum of enjoyment. You can't simply take an exhibition online and ignore that critical element.
More broadly, physical events contribute significantly to the local economy. In Dubai, the events sector works hand in hand with the airline, hospitality, retail and F&B industries to enhance the event experience.
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From a government perspective, the value of this collaboration represents a key slice of overall GDP. That’s why entities such as Dubai's Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing – which has been hugely supportive throughout this challenging time – are so invested in the business events industry.
Importance of exhibitions
As part of our efforts to understand the impact of Covid-19 on the exhibitions industry, Messe Frankfurt Middle East ran two surveys of more than 6,000 professionals from 130 countries, delving into key areas such as travel, budgets and the importance of trade fairs in a post-pandemic world.
The positive news for the industry is that 75 per cent of respondents believe exhibitions will be as or more important than they were pre-Covid, with the majority of respondents citing a lack of alternatives to the face-to-face business opportunities offered by sector-specific trade shows.
Physical events engage people across the spectrum of enjoyment. You can't simply take an exhibition online and ignore that critical element
This is clear validation of the business potential of trade exhibitions as platforms to unearth new products, services and suppliers that may otherwise slip under radars.
Furthermore, 66 per cent of respondents are planning to travel by airplane for business this year, in line with ongoing governmental efforts to open more international travel corridors, ease quarantine restriction and spur tourism – for both MICE (meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions) and leisure.
When asked if respondents believed the Covid-19 situation is either stabilised or improving, a promising 73 per cent responded with the latter, while a further 83 per cent insisted they are comfortable travelling to Dubai to attend exhibitions.
We are seeing a shift towards a back-to-business mindset, with people keen to start taking part in exhibitions again. The current event safety measures we have in place, coupled with the government’s ongoing efforts to make everyone as safe as possible, has had a really positive impact on participation levels, delivery and upscaling of our traditional trade show portfolios.
Hybrid – the best of both worlds
In-person events are exciting. They’re fun. People thrive on them and enjoy building trust and engagement face-to-face. Live events offer rewards that online events can never fully replace. Likewise, digital events offer benefits that physical shows can’t. The two formats enhance and complement each other to create a more powerful, engaging and connected audience experience.
Exhibitions will look different in the future, and we welcome that. The augmentation of technology into the traditional exhibition environment has already been under way for some time now, but Covid-19 has no doubt advanced this progress.
Messe Frankfurt Middle East is actively looking at combining the best of the virtual and physical world to create dynamic hybrid exhibition models.
Moving forward, the hybrid format will become the norm, but the virtual or digital aspect of exhibitions will simply be a value addition to the physical offering, not an alternative. I’m certain that when this current pandemic subsides, the appetite for real-life physical exhibitions will be stronger than ever.
As an aside, Frankfurt, Germany, where Messe Frankfurt is headquartered, is known as the city of trade fairs. Frankfurt’s first trade fair documented in writing dates back to the Middle Ages to the year 1150, more than 850 years ago.
The two formats enhance and complement each other to create a more powerful, engaging and connected audience experience
Since then, the city, and its rich trade fair heritage, has survived and thrived through two world wars, multiple invasions, economic depressions and indeed another global flu pandemic aside from the one we’re currently navigating.
And so, when we see the light at the end of the tunnel, the wider exhibitions industry will continue to thrive, innovate and offer our customers a core value proposition.
For Messe Frankfurt, that is to create platforms for doing business. Trade fairs, congresses and other events are our core business. And that is not going to change. As we look to the future, I see a happier, healthier and more healing time, with physical events at the heart of the MICE landscape.
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