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The Future of Exhibitions

What will exhibitions look like in 2019? We catch up with Nicola Macdonald, Editor of Exhibition News, who shares her thoughts on the hottest trends shaping the future of events.  

“2018 saw the exhibition industry continue to evolve at a rapid rate and I don’t see why 2019 would be any different.

As always, we can’t talk about the future of exhibitions without mentioning new technology. There are countless tech start‐ups constantly popping up on the market, but what organisers want to know is, which technologies are truly worth investing in?

With budgets tighter than ever, both in trade and consumer, the latest flashy technology companies need to really work hard to prove that their product isn’t just clever but will give the organisers some kind of tangible return on investment.

I’m constantly attending conferences and panel discussions where we hear all about how artificial intelligence, augmented reality and virtual reality are set to change the face of events. My personal view? I think the events industry is still working out exactly what it wants to do with virtual reality and how to make an investment in the technology (which isn’t cheap) worthwhile. Plus, there’s the inescapable fact that cutting an event attendee off from other people, shutting them in their own little virtual world, isn’t exactly conducive to the face‐to‐face we all love.

I think augmented reality has great potential, and imagining a future where a visitor could hold up their phone camera and see a path leading them straight to the correct stand or theatre (just as one simple example) is genuinely exciting.

But it’s artificial technology that I think has real potential to change the game in the near future. Whether this comes in the form of chatbots, personalised online experiences for event attendees or smarter networking, it’s close and it has huge potential.

Moving away from tech, I think the last couple of years have been defined by some massive acquisitions and mergers, particularly among organisers, and some real interest in the exhibition industry as a whole from the world of private equity.

2017 and 2018 saw Informa’s £3.9bn takeover of UBM, Blackstone’s £600m acquisition of Clarion, ITE Group’s acquisition of the majority of Ascential’s event business for £300m…not to mention Olympia London's £296m acquisition by Deutsche Finance and Blackstone’s recent purchase of the NEC for £800m.

There was a time when any one of these deals would have made for a big year in the industry, combined they are record‐breaking. All in all, it goes to show the value that investors see in the world of exhibitions and I don’t think it’s going to stop there.

In a time when exhibitors have more marketing channels available to them than ever before, it’s incredibly encouraging to see exhibitions not only leading the way but becoming a preferred platform for brands that continue to see the value and importance of face‐to‐face.

To conclude, I think the future of exhibitions is incredibly positive, and I can’t wait to see what 2019 holds in store!”

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