Taking the pulse of the return

Danica Tormohlen, Society of Independent Show Organisers (SISO) publisher and editor-in-chief, says momentum is building for the US exhibition industry

In the US, independent show organisers had a strong Q1 in 2022 compared with 2021, and more attendees and exhibitors are returning to trade shows than they did during the same period last year. Mask mandates have been lifted in 49 states (as of press time). Vaccine mandates in major cities like New York, Las Vegas and Boston have been suspended. Travel restrictions, like quarantines and testing, are easing around the globe, and more international exhibitors and attendees are returning to the US market.

In January and February, SISO attended and reported on several major B2B shows, including the PGA Show, MAGIC, PROJECT, SOURCING, OFFPRICE Show and Womenswear in Nevada (WWIN). We interviewed SISO members – including RX Global, Tarsus Group, Clarion Events and Informa Markets – about producing shows in 2022 as we emerge from the pandemic. Plus, we spoke with attendees and exhibitors to get a pulse on the confidence levels for the return of large-scale, in-person events as the world adjusts and learns to live with the pandemic. SISO produced case studies to help members and the industry understand the full picture of what’s happening on the ground. Here’s what is trending:

Confidence levels on the rise

In 2022, more exhibitors and attendees are anxious to come back to events than they were in Q1 2021. What’s the motivation to return? Exhibitors want to meet face-to-face with new prospects and catch up with a number of existing clients over the course of a few days. 

Attendees are not only looking for new products, tech and innovations for their customers but also new vendors in response to supply-chain disruptions. “We found unique pieces we weren’t looking for and new vendors,” said Jen Koury, a retailer buyer at Banyan Tree, who attended WWIN and MAGIC. 

Quality buyers are returning

The quantity of buyers has not reached pre-pandemic levels, but the quality of buyers is high. While traffic isn’t as dense at many shows, exhibitors have commented on the return of highly engaged buyers. “What we’ve found is the people who want to be here are the most engaged, most passionate and most enthusiastic, and we have been busier than we expected to be,” said Chris Somerton, head of golf at Lyle & Scotty, who exhibited at the PGA Show for the first time in several years as the Scotland-based company looks to expand in the US market.  

NPS scores are higher

“Our exhibitor satisfaction has been very high given the strong attendee turnout with the ratio of attendees to exhibitors increasing by 22% as compared to 2019 levels, on average, across all of our events,” said Emerald president and CEO Hervé Sedky in a release about the company’s Q3 2021 financial results. “This has led to an over 900% increase in average exhibitor net promoter scores (NPS), compared to 2019, which can also be seen in our sales pacings for 2022 which are trending better than our 2021 events.”

Adjusting health and safety measures

Show producers are following local guidance and CDC guidelines. As we move forward into Q2, exhibitions in most US cities and venues will look much like they did pre-pandemic with no masks, no Covid testing, no social distancing and no vaccine requirements. Show organisers have learned to adjust quickly to changing policies. For example, the indoor mask mandate in Las Vegas was lifted on 10 February, and MAGIC, which opened on 14 February, dropped the mask requirement and adjusted copy on its website, social channels and signage, said Kelly Helfman, president of Informa Markets Fashion.

Check out the SISO interviews with exhibitors and attendees to hear what their exhibiting experience is like in 2022 at: www.siso.org