Measuring the impact of exhibitions Expert Opinion

MD of Dubai-based consultancy Nasaafir, Jerad Bachar explains how best to underscore the greater benefits of our exhibition.

Stakeholders from throughout the exhibition industry strive to evaluate events from various perspectives to determine return on investment as well as if the exhibition’s objectives are being fulfilled.  Establishing whether or not the objectives of any exhibition vary among stakeholders based upon the level of investment or engagement, but all stakeholders have a vested interest.

Any exhibition will have a minimum of six or seven vested stakeholders, which include the event owner, event organiser (can be the same organisation as the owner), the industry sector (which the exhibition represents), the host destination, the exhibitors, the visitors, and the service providers.  All of these stakeholder categories have an interest in the success of the event.  The objectives of these stakeholders range from exhibitor and visitor satisfaction, advancement of trade and commerce, development of research and knowledge transfer, promotion of the destination and/or venue, sales and product awareness, education and challenge solutions, and of course revenues and profits.

In the past, exhibition organisers and owners would evaluate exhibitions on basic revenue and exhibitor satisfaction goals. How much revenue was generated?  How much profit was maintained? How satisfied were our exhibitors? How satisfied were our visitors?

These questions are important and will continue to be at the forefront of the analysis. However it is important to apply an expanded evaluation of exhibitions from everyone involved.

Historically, destinations have also limited the impact measurement of exhibitions to strictly tourism impact evaluation. How many hotel rooms were consumed?  What was the estimated economic impact for the destination? Again, these are important questions and should continue to be evaluated, but there are many more positive impacts which exhibitions provide.

Earlier this year, I presented this discussion during the UFI Open Seminar in the Middle East on behalf of the Saudi Exhibition and Convention Bureau (SECB).  The SECB is just over one year into its existence and has a keen interest in focusing on the complete evaluation of the exhibition industry in the country. Saudi Arabia has a unique business environment as well as a vibrant exhibition industry.

The SECB’s executive director Tariq Al Essa said: “The exhibition industry has an important role in developing the key economic sectors throughout the country, especially in the emerging non-oil sectors. Exhibitions help us grow private and public sector investment in a variety of economic categories including transportation, construction and education.”

Regions, countries and destinations are beginning to evaluate events in a more in-depth manner. Due to the size and scope of the exhibition industry in most parts of the world, these events have a strong impact on the economic, social, cultural, political and environmental aspects of the area.

The measurement of the economic impact of events have long been at the forefront of analysis for destinations.  Many destinations have created ways to measure these impacts including direct, indirect and induced spend from the event itself and its attendees.  These impacts are generally measured in cooperation with a third-party consultancy which creates the matrix and multipliers for ongoing evaluation. It is time for destinations to also evaluate the residual impacts of exhibitions including the areas of social, cultural and political.

Often, local organisations in the host destination use these events as a way to help educate their own workforce on updated techniques and best practices.  Industry-related trends and innovation are able to be viewed and discussed whereas if the event didn’t take place, these outcomes would not be possible. Cultural experiences in the way of doing business are also impacted through human interaction during these events. The information shared during exhibitions can have a political impact by way of affecting political regulation, coordination, or investment in a specific topic or area.

Some leading business event destinations is beginning to strengthen their analysis towards these other impacts. One such group of destinations are represented in the Future Convention Cities Initiative (FCCI). In a recent study, the FCCI concluded that some key benefits and outcomes from business events include: Delegates are exposed to new insights, knowledge and ideas, business events focus on the latest research and its practical applications, networking is fostered because people meet face-to-face,business events result in the creation of business partnerships and research collaborations that lead to the development of new products, organising committee members and practitioners consider business events to contribute to improving the quality of education in the field, and academic delegates view business events as catalysts for research collaboration.

While all of the above impacts are generally measured in hopes of seeing an increase or enhancement in impact (increase in economic impact, enhancement of social, cultural and political impacts), one area that all stakeholders must focus in order to drive a decrease in impact is in the environmental impact. Exhibitions are well-known to cause increased consumption of energy and non-reusable goods.  These events create a volume of waste which through a collaborative effort can be greatly reduced.  Event organizers, venues and service providers can work together to reduce the amount of waste generated from every exhibition around the world.

Measuring the positive impacts from the perspective of all stakeholders is important to long-term sustainability.  The industry must increase collaboration in order to reach a clear understanding of the direct and residual effects from these events

Through collaboration and the use of modern technology, systems can be developed by the industry, and for the industry, that assist in creating efficiency in evaluation.

This article was first published in issue 4/4 of EW. Any comments? Email Antony Reeve-Crook

Jerad Bachar

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