The pandemic has made a big impact on the events industry with all exhibitions and trade shows having to be cancelled or transferred online during 2020 and the first half of 2021. But with things starting to return to normal and events resuming, what changes will there be? Here we examine some of the exhibition trends for 2021, and going into 2022.
1. Hybrid events
Hybrid events are likely to be one of the biggest trends in 2021. What is a hybrid event? Put simply, it’s adding a virtual element to a traditional live event structure.
It is likely that a number of large scale exhibitions will continue to offer some form of online content. International travel remains challenging from some countries which will put overseas visitors off. Therefore, allowing them access to streamed sessions will broaden the reach of larger events. DSEI is one such event which is allowing visitors to access the content over the internet. Many others are offering content on-demand even if they aren’t live streaming sessions. This trend poses challenges for event organisers to create seamless online content as well as the live event.
2. Changing stand design
With social distancing remaining a concern, stand designs are being adapted to allow visitors to keep apart. Instead of three walls, many more stands are now open on 3 or 4 sides. This allows more space for visitors and a better flow. Some are removing desks and plinths to allow more space for people to gather safely.
The increased use of technology on exhibition stands continues to be a trend. Businesses are embracing virtual reality and artificial intelligence in a drive to attract visitors. From virtual sales assistants and chatbots to improved security with Image Recognition & Speech Recognition, AI is truly shaping the future of trade shows around the world.
Allowing visitors to interact with iPads or virtual reality increases their engagement in ways that a salesperson cannot achieve easily. Customers can also use an iPad to fill in their contact details, which is easier than a salesperson doing it.
Businesses are also using audiovisual equipment to stream social media or advertising campaigns that they have recently put together. This will jog the memory of potential customers and may increase engagement.
4. Going digital
As well as using AV equipment, many businesses are taking their brochures online. This is good for sustainability, lessening the printing of brochures, and also for COVID concerns. Exhibitors display a QR code on their stand which visitors can scan to view and download the brochure. Some are exchanging physical promotional items for an online gift card or items sent direct to the customer, lessening the need for physical contact on the stand.
Sustainability has long been discussed as a trend in the events industry. Some companies have embraced the trend while others have merely talked about it. However, the trend is back in full force. More than ever before we are aware our carbon footprint. Events organisers are focusing on reducing waste and litter. Food packaging is going plastic-free. Energy-efficient HVAC systems for exhibition halls and reusable exhibition stands are all trends in 2021 to make exhibitions more environmentally friendly.
6. Health and Safety
Expect to see sanitisation stations, temperature checks and obligatory mask wearing as the threat of COVID remains. Some events may limit the number of attendees to allow for social distancing. One way traffic flows may be implemented and staggered entrance times. Sessions in meeting rooms may have more limited numbers so that the chairs can be spaced out.
Buffets are likely to be replaced by table service, and bowls of sweets banned. Expect boxed lunches and pre-packaged snacks rather than self-service counters.
Another rising trend is personalisation. During the events themselves, we can expect to see a greater degree of personalisation for visitors through apps, polls, gamification and more, delivered straight to their phones and tablets. By inputting their interests and data into an app, attendees can receive personalised scheduled, or even be matched with others for networking.
Microsites are increasingly being used by companies to promote a specific product and the events industry is catching on too. A microsite is a brand-specific website for an individual event that has a separate URL to the main website. Event organisers can host the details and registrations about an event on a microsite. Unlike a corporate website, microsites will allow you to be as elaborate as required. They don’t contain information about the company, they purely focus on the event. This allows for better targeting and has benefits for Search Engine Optimisation as it can be optimised for specific keywords.
The pandemic has had a big impact on the events industry so as exhibitions get going again there are bound to be changes. The challenges still presented by COVID 19 will affect the size and nature of events, and technological advances will alter the way in which businesses connect with visitors.
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