This question seems to be on everyone’s mind these days. While some are craving face-to-face interactions and are eager for the return of in-person events, others remain hesitant.

A recent GlobalSpec research report, “Industrial Marketing in 2021,” found that 57 percent of marketers are not planning to attend in-person tradeshows in 2021, despite the fact tradeshows were once one of a marketer’s top strategies.

Twenty-nine percent of marketers have decided not to budget for in-person tradeshows in 2021 and 38 percent have a smaller tradeshow budget than in the past. Only 12 percent have restored their budget back to normal levels.

This hesitancy to return to tradeshows and cutting back of tradeshow budgets may signal concerns about how quickly the industry will return to its former state.

Other industry experts tend to agree. The Wall Street Journal reported, “The roughly $11 billion U.S. trade-show and exhibition industry is slowly coming back to life after a largely lost year due to coronavirus.” However, industry executives say a full recovery isn’t expected for about two years.

Industry analyst PwC expects the U.S. B2B tradeshow market, which was one of the fastest-growing B2B markets, to shrink by 64.3% to $5.56 billion. Their report forecasts a rebound next year, followed by growth in the coming years.

The PwC report states that by 2021, the market is expected to grow to $8.62 billion and by 2024, it should be $14.5 billion. However, that would leave it shy of pre-pandemic levels. PwC doesn’t see this market recovering to last year’s size until sometime after 2024.

Forbes noted that many companies’ sales were unaffected by their absence from trade shows and that those companies saved the money that previously had been spent on sponsorships, booths, collateral material, travel, and hotels. Could it be some of these companies never return to the tradeshow circuit? A lot might depend on what their competition does and how well tradeshows rebound.

Freeman, a global event firm, said in Tradeshow Executive that it’s time to “get your show back on the road.” They conducted a survey in February and found that 74 percent of attendees and 78 percent of exhibitors expected to return to the show floor by the end of the year. Freeman also reported confidence and optimism are at an all-time high, “meaning the timeline for a return to events for fall has strengthened significantly, with added confidence for even as early as July and August.”

From February to April 2021, overall positive sentiment increased from 30 percent to 45 according to Freeman, and negative sentiment decreased from 51 percent to 36 percent.

While opinions vary, most experts believe in-person tradeshows will slowly make a comeback this year. However, virtual events or at least virtual components associated with in-person tradeshows are likely here to stay. It remains to be seen what kind of staying power hybrid events combining virtual and in-person will have.

Even with those tradeshows that do take place, corporate compliance and a variety of travel restrictions may tamp down attendance. Attendees who are spending a good bit of money on products and solutions will likely show up to ensure they are getting the best products and deals for their companies. And as tradeshows come back online, early exhibitors may have less competition and a more focused audience, which will tend to drive up future exhibitors and audiences in its own way.

The bottom line: if one of your top tradeshows is scheduled for the second half of the year, you may want to exhibit or attend in some capacity, perhaps with fewer people or a more scaled-back presence. It’s unlikely there will be a huge rush on tradeshows, so it’s okay to take modest steps forward and make sure any tradeshow potentially on your schedule is aligned with your marketing objectives.

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