UFI reviews ‘a year like no other’ and plots course for 2021

UFI’s General Assembly 2020, attended by more than 100 member companies from 40 countries, 10 November, reviewed 12 months of activity by the global association of the exhibition industry with the spotlight on advocacy efforts, events, education and research. The association’s online gathering also confirmed plans for the year ahead and highlighted initiatives taken.

The General Assembly, chaired by UFI’s 2020 president Mary Larkin, preceded UFI’s first digital Global Congress, which runs online 16-19 November.

“As we entered a new decade, yes only 11 months ago, we had no idea what was going to hit our industry, not to mention our businesses and our way of life,” said Larkin. “During the CEO Summit in Rome in February, the discussion around Covid-19 was only beginning and within mere weeks, we were quickly challenged in a way that was to test our resiliency, solidarity and our ability to pivot to find ways to keep in contact with our customers, suppliers and industry colleagues.”

She added: “So, as we come to the end of the most challenging year in our industry’s history, I am hopeful for our industry to be ‘Better Than Before’. We should not be satisfied with a new normal but work collectively to create an industry that is better than we could have ever imagined, delivers results that are better than our customers could imagine and shows governments and economies how powerful exhibitions are in fuelling economic growth. We are a strong resilient industry that will recover quickly. I do want to thank our advocates and associations who are working tirelessly, alongside UFI, to represent our industry with one voice educating governments, and driving home the role we all play in a strong economy.”

The Global CEO Summit in Rome included a special session at the Vatican, the General Assembly was reminded. There, industry leaders met with Pope Francis, who stated: “It has been shown that fairs and exhibitions not only have positive effects on regional economies and labour markets, but also offer significant opportunities for showcasing to the wider world the rich diversity and beauty of local cultures and ecosystems.”

After Covid-19 hit, UFI had to postpone, then cancel, many regular face-to-face events and educational offers. In March,  ‘UFI Connects’ was launched, a series of regular talks, sessions and panels online. There are now 40 sessions available, on-demand – and free of charge – at: www.ufi.org/uficonnects

“The content we provide and deliver at our UFI events around the world is one of our association’s biggest assets. While our regular events and educational programmes cannot take place as usual, ‘UFI connects’ is our way to continue to deliver,” said Kai Hattendorf, UFI CEO and managing director.

In February, UFI launched a central online resource to share materials on the Covid outbreaks with the industry at www.ufi.org/coronavirus – the first MICE industry association to do so. The page continues to be updated. UFI has also created a range of Covid-19 resources for UFI members and the industry at large, including the Global Framework for re-opening exhibitions and B2B trade events and the Good Practice Guide for addressing Covid-19 requirements for re-opening business events.

Building on the global framework, the guidance, jointly launched by the three associations AIPC, ICCA and UFI, highlights good industry practices and emerging standards for the implementation of the framework measures from around the world.

UFI also created the Exhibition Industry Market Status Tracker to check the current state of markets around the world.

Meanwhile, UFI is working to advocate globally for specific support programmes from governments tailored to the needs of the sector. The association has achieved success in many countries and continues to work on this.

UFI has also released a host of case studies and travel, health and company advice. Find out more at: www.ufi.org/industry-resources/coronavirus


Covid-19 global economic impact

UFI delivers regular research insights and has released year-long reports on how Covid-19 impacts on the industry.

In March, UFI released the first global assessment of the economic impact that Covid-19 was having on tradeshows and exhibitions. Then, in July, the association released updated figures showing the global hit on exhibitions and tradeshows

In July, UFI released the latest edition of its flagship Global Barometer research, designed to take the pulse of the industry.

UFI released the 16th edition of its Trade Fair Industry in Asia report. Compiled in Hong Kong by BSG, the report covered actual performance of the industry in 2019, as well as forecasts for the years 2020 and 2021. Overall, BSG estimated that Asia would record an unprecedented 75% drop in net space sold in 2020, compared to 2019, as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. This means net space sold is expected to fall from the 24.5m sqm. recorded in 2019, down to just 6.8m sqm. in 2020.

UFI’s Global Recovery Insights, published on 20 October, was based on more than 9,000 responses from across 30 countries, and showed that exhibition visitors and exhibitors overwhelmingly prefer live events, and that there is no evidence of a major shift away from face-to-face meetings.

The majority of exhibiting companies expect a fast return to pre-Covid-19 levels of investment into the marketing channel.

And the Waste Management Report in the Exhibitions Industry was derived from several UFI actions, including the set-up of dedicated regional task forces and the selection of best practices through the 2020 UFI Award competition on ‘Best Waste Management’. Contributions from 40 companies covering 22 countries led to this consolidated report of findings.

The size and scope of UFI’s research available to members has grown significantly in recent years.


UFI-Exhibition Management School

Based on the excellent reception of UFI’s Venue Management School programme, the association launched a new industry education programme for exhibition organisers: the UFI-Exhibition Management School (UFI-EMS). The UFI-EMS replaces the UFI-Exhibition Management Degree and the sold-out premiere of the UFI-EMS was organised online and ran over a period of four weeks. The programme offered its international group of participants an unmatched learning environment and networking opportunities. The curriculum was delivered by experienced senior-level managers from leading organisers, with a special focus on the Asia-Pacific region. Following strong demand from members, UFI announced a further UFI-EMS edition, 24 January-18 February 2021. It will combine both global insights and regional expertise for the Middle East and Africa region.


A new member benefit

UFI has joined forces with Exhibition Think Tank Club platform to broaden its reach to enable more industry professionals to network, debate and participate in ETTC projects.

As part of this collaboration, UFI member companies can register colleagues as ETTC Gold Members, as an additional member benefit. The ETTC aims to bring together industry peers from different sectors and countries to share their expertise, vision and insights.



UFI’s General Assembly also noted that the 5th edition of Global Exhibitions Day 2020, despite the pandemic, still managed to become the most successful day of advocacy for the industry ever, promoting the central message “exhibitions are key to rebuilding economies” across the globe.

From videos to meetings with policy makers, webinars to hybrid events, webcasts to social campaigns, bingo, cakes, virtual running parties and more, people and organisations from at least 114 countries/regions got involved in GED2020. UFI was able to track posts and messages that had a potential reach of 715 million people.

Summarising UFI's activities for 2020, Kai Hattendorf said: “It’s been a year like no other – challenging everyone in the global exhibitions and business events industry like never before. In the past 12 months, the whole UFI team has been working relentlessly to produce tangible data, to provide practical guidance and share best practices, to speak on behalf of our industry in the media, to advocate, and – last, but by no means least – to offer the spaces for our industry to connect and stay in touch, both on-site and online.”

Sonia Thomas, UFI director of operations/COO, added: “It’s been a tough year for everyone, including the UFI staff, but we are glad that we have been able to provide valuable information and resources to all our members over the past months, and will strive to continue to do so in the months ahead. We are all here for you, our members: you are at the heart of everything we do.”



The months ahead will see UFI maintaining a focus on Covid-19 related developments, while continuing to drive industry advocacy efforts, provide regular research and expand its educational offerings. There will be two focal points to keep the industry connected and updated. The ‘UFI connects’ series of digital sessions and events will continue to evolve, and, in parallel, the Exhibition Think Tank Club, which UFI member companies can access as a new member benefit, will grow as an international platform for exhibition industry professionals.

The Global CEO Summit is planned to take place on-site in Hamburg (Germany) from 3-5 February 2021.

Anbu Varathan (Indian Machine Tool Manufacturers’ Association - IMTMA, India) is UFI 2021 president and he is joined in UFI’s new presidential leadership trio by Monica Lee-Müller (managing director of Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre (Management) Limited (HML), as incoming president, and Mary Larkin (Diversified Communications, Portland, USA) as outgoing president.