What A Comeback For Trade Shows Means For The Promotional Products Industry

It’s (almost) the most wonderful time of the year. After the holidays, both attendees and exhibitors will be counting down the days until The PPAI Expo 2022. This will be PPAI’s first in-person show since January 2020, returning to Las Vegas, Nevada, on January 10-13.

According to the Center for Exhibition Industry Research (CEIR), about 98 percent of exhibitions were canceled during the second half of 2020 because of COVID restrictions. But trade shows are making a comeback, improving significantly in the third quarter of 2021 compared to the previous five quarters.

Bob McLean, CPA, CAE, CEM, PPAI’s executive vice president and immediate past chair for the International Association of Exhibitions and Events (IAEE), says the trade-show industry will rebound with shows that are smaller than before, but better.

“This summer, we started seeing in-person events coming back. They are coming back stronger, but not as big. There’s lots of enthusiasm for the return to in-person events. But for now, due to either budget issues, health concerns or international travel restrictions, most trade shows will be smaller than they were pre-COVID.”

Compared to 2019, a pre-COVID-19 benchmark for the industry, trade shows, events and exhibitions are making a slow and choppy recovery. Data from CEIR shows that in Q3 2021, excluding canceled events, the total index for completed events fell by 45.8 percent from Q3 2019, compared to a decline of 54.9 percent in Q1 2021 and a 39.8-percent decline in Q2 2021. Exhibitor count fell the furthest at 51.2 percent, followed by real revenues plunging by 49.7 percent. But attendance in Q3 shrank the least, 37.1 percent compared with the third quarter of 2019.

McLean says the return of in-person events is good news for the promotional products industry. “At any trade show, most exhibitors are handing out promotional products,” says McLean. “Our industry welcomes in-person trade shows coming back.”

A PPAI Buyer Behavior Study Report from 2016 found that promotional products are used in conjunction with exhibits and trade shows 38 percent of the time. According to PPAI’s 2021 Consumer Study Report, 23 percent of respondents have accepted company-branded products while attending trade shows, conferences or business events. Sixty-two percent say they would go to a specific booth at a trade show just to get a particular logoed item from a favorite brand.

In 2022, McLean says the quality of attendance will be even better. “The people who are attending now are typically successful in their business and committed to their industry. They are coming to do business, not just take a trip.”

Despite the recently discovered Omicron variant, exhibitors are continuing to gain confidence in the near future of in-person events. Half of meeting planners and 43 percent of professional conference suppliers said they were feeling hopeful in December, versus 33 percent and 34 percent, respectively, in September, according to a survey by Professional Conference Management Association conducted between December 7-14. Only seven percent of planners said Omicron was prompting changes to their plans for upcoming events.

Trade shows are still valuable, says McLean. “For many industries, trade shows are a significant way to go to market, especially business-to-business shows, because it can allow them to focus on their buyers. We know that the people attending the show are ‘buyers.’ It’s much more targeted and focused than a radio or TV ad.”

But networking is the hallmark of in-person shows. “They allow you to foster stronger relationships,” he adds. “It’s all about networking. You can’t network on Zoom or a TV ad. The relationships you build at a trade show are extremely important.”

It’s not too late to sign up to attend The PPAI Expo 2022. Register here.

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