Nicole Bowman, MBA
Vice President of Marketing and Communications, International Association of Exhibitions and Events (IAEE)
The COVID-19 pandemic catapulted the B2B exhibitions industry into a new era. When the realities of COVID-19 were truly being felt in the spring of 2020, the entire industry and its supporting ecosystem basically shut down. Organizers had to quickly transition and find a way to continue bringing buyers and sellers together.
In 2021, this has left a major question on everyone’s minds: Are virtual events here to stay?
Yes and no. First, it depends on the market vertical. For example, fashion shows exist well in the face-to-face environment because of the need to feel the fabrics, see the colors, and examine the samples. This cannot be achieved well in the digital space.
The Center for Exhibition Industry Research (CEIR) noted in its Global Virtual Events Trends Study that, of organizers surveyed, people attend digital events for learning and prefer face-to-face events for networking, relationship-building, and transactions.
For the majority of trade show organizers, face-to-face events will always be the preferred way to bring buyers and sellers together to conduct business. If the COVID-19 pandemic taught us anything, it is the firm realization that face-to-face interactions are essential.
Most organizers are looking to augment or enhance their face-to-face event with a virtual component to reach audiences that they could not traditionally reach before. Particularly in 2021, when corporate travel bans are still fairly common and travel restrictions are in place for international visitors, offering a digital component to your in-person event will be what many organizers plan for their event stakeholders.
What the trade show community as a whole has embraced is the notion of online communities extending the face-to-face experience year-round. In the CEIR study mentioned above, the top three reasons for moving to virtual to serve communities were: provide education for professional or personal development, keep professionals up-to-date with industry trends, and help brand marketers generate leads and achieve branding objectives.
It sometimes takes a crisis to push people and companies to be innovative. While the events industry was hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, event professionals persevered and used virtual offerings as a way to move forward in the face of uncertainty. The digital world will continue to grow and, if you are savvy enough, you will find a way to make it work for you.