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Foundations taking shape

UFI managing director, Kai Hattendorf, on how the industry can recover post-Covid-19.

Let me begin this column with a plea: Bear with me for the coming paragraphs – I promise there will also be good news. But, first – fasten your mental seat belts, please.

Ready? Here we go…

It’s now official: this year, revenues in our industry will shrink by 60% globally, compared to 2019. Seventy three percent of companies in our industry around the world report zero business for April and May. And almost every second company in our sector has stopped all investments. That are some of the hard facts we learn from the latest edition of UFI’s Global Barometer (see here)

UFI set up this biannual research as a response to the global financial crisis in 2009 – under Cliff Wallace’s presidency. It is ironic in many ways that the 25th and jubilee edition is now covering the biggest impact we’ve seen on our industry in generations. On 240 pages, for 20 markets, five regions, and the world, it reflects the impact Covid had on our industry since the pandemic began, and it makes for tough reading initially.

Does it point to a gloomy future? Is the industry doomed? I don’t think so.

Research like the barometer is essential for us to have trusted global data to take to politicians, lawmakers, and stakeholders. We now can prove to them that, by not having tradeshows, they lose hundreds of billions of total economic impact – both within our industry and in every industry on this planet, as no tradeshows mean no deals for businesses, and empty order books. And – stressing this collectively, as an industry speaking with one voice, around the world (see the feature on the JMIC Manifesto on pages 24-25 of the August edition of EW) – we are being heard.

Just these past weeks, both the prime ministers of the UK (Boris Johnson) and Australia (Scott Morrison) spoke publicly about the importance of face to face and the comeback of our sector. We are advocating for public funding support: There are programmes already in Asia. There are encouraging signs in Europe. And we see the momentum building in markets like the US.

The Barometer shows us also the agility and the resilience of our sector, and the areas where we can thrive as an industry and bounce back stronger.

First, and most obvious – face to face will be back. Seventy-six percent of all companies are convinced that Covid-19 confirms the value of face-to-face events, and that this will drive our recovery. Even more companies (82%) see the potential for more digital elements at and around events (the ‘hybrid event’ model). And we are responding to that already – with every second company around the world increasing their investments into digital.

Secondly, despite Covid, our industry is not losing sight of two other main areas of development: Sustainable Development and Diversity.

Despite Covid, for a majority of companies the pandemic had little to no impact on their activities towards sustainable development, and 36% of companies manage to keep their investments into sustainability stable. Work in the industry continues on so many projects around the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. UFI’s Sustainable Development Award this year has helped to showcase great examples from around the world on waste management, just to give an example.

The urgency to act to implement the Paris climate accord is and remains a paramount factor. The picture looks very similar globally on diversity, where almost six out of 10 companies maintain their level of activities. Here we have our work cut out for us, as UFI as well as in the industry. Diversity in leadership is and remains a strategic focus at UFI – to drive diversity in areas like age (through the NGL Grant), geography and race (UFI’s global membership being represented in our structures), and gender (we have set up a new group to connect and support women leaders in the industry).

Covid will continue to impact what we do as an industry for the months to come still. Shows have reopened in Asia and Europe, the first events take place in the Middle East. I attended my first conference in person again in June – it felt great. And it is great to see the UFI Global Framework being put to good use as safety and health procedures are being put into place. The tough times will go on, but the foundations for the comeback of our industry are taking shape.