The impact of coronavirus on the global exhibitions industry

By Denzil Rankine, Executive Chairman, AMR International

Coronavirus has put us all in an unprecedented situation, one that is rapidly changing almost by the hour.

First and foremost, I want to extend our support to the global organisers and investors we work with, and to the wider events community. We understand this tragedy is making it extremely difficult to operate and for many, business survival is the paramount concern.

At this stage, we have compiled the following update on what we currently know. We explain the impacts, how the future may potentially play out, along with some potential strategies. As developments evolve, we will provide further updates.

Likely impacts

Coronavirus will certainly cause a double-digit percentage revenue and profit hit to the global industry in 2020. AMR International will provide its Globex subscribers with updates in advance of the five-year forecast to 2025, which is due for release in September.

Organisers and service providers most at risk include any highly leveraged or under-capitalised businesses. Those trade associations that depend on their flagship event for the lion’s share of their income and which are forced to cancel will face substantial challenges. A limited number of weaker events or service providers risk failure.

Largely, venues will weather the storm due to long-term contracts and their capital structures.  Organisers with business media have a distinct advantage, due to their sophisticated use of digital tools and ability to keep databases up to date.

Repositioning and potential opportunities

Whilst most players will ride out the crisis, postponed or cancelled events will require substantial communication and potential repositioning. Some challengers will seek opportunities, including through alternative event formats.  

Whatever the recovery scenario, we expect to see a one-off retraction of the industry size. The forced choice of not participating due to event cancellations or travel bans will cause some attendees and exhibitors or sponsors to change their future behaviour as alternatives are proven viable or even more attractive.

The partial London Underground strike of 2015 caused 5% of commuters to change their regular journeys. Given the range of choices available to attendees and marketers we foresee a similar phenomenon playing out, particularly in relation to poorly differentiated events.

Some investors will take the opportunity to enter the events ecosystem, seeking opportunities at potentially attractive multiples, although they will need to pick those with clear recovery potential as the bifurcation of the industry accelerates.

Players with market leading events and which address Exhibitions 2.0 – including the delivery of sustained value to participants and using digital tools – will take share from those that are secondary or under-invested.

Acceleration of digital tools

Coronavirus will also bring a lasting change to the industry as forward-thinking organisers accelerate their embrace of digital tools. Cancelled events bring the need for 365 engagement into focus; cancelled travel calls for livestreaming and related tools. Examples include Collision taking its 30,000 person tech conference online; Art Basel is offering online viewings.  

Event tech businesses that offer services beyond the event will enjoy accelerated growth, already reporting a massive up-take in enquiries. Challenger technologies that support alternatives to events will gain ground.   

Recovery timing

Unless the crisis is prolonged, we expect to see the industry recover much of its lost ground within two years. This will depend on how many postponed events take place soon enough not to damage their annual cycles and the extent to which exhibitor and sponsor cost cutting is required by a downturn.

The fundamental value of meeting face-to-face can be expected to endure. A proof point for the continuing demand for exhibitions is the rise of customer events in the tech sector, which would be the first to replace physical interaction with purely digital alternatives.

Long term outlook

Post recovery, growth will resume as switched-on organisers embrace Exhibitions 2.0, understanding that space sales are not the core driver of engagement and success.  Forthcoming Globex updates will provide the full five year forecast and we will update this view periodically.

As always, AMR International will do whatever we can to help organisers, other industry players and investors navigate through these extremely difficult times. We hope this crisis ends swiftly so our friends in the events industry can get back to what they do best.

To discuss any of these issues in more detail, please contact me at: denzil.rankine@amrinternational.com

Florent Jarry, Head of AMR’s Global Events Practice can also be reached directly at: florent.jarry@amrinternational.com

About AMR International

AMR International is the world leader in strategy consulting to the events and exhibitions industry. Our mission is to create value for our clients and act as a guide for transformation. With more than 30 years’ experience, AMR supports every aspect of event transformation, from group and market entry strategy, acquisition search, commercial due diligence and performance improvement through to pricing, digital strategy and data analytics. AMR has offices in London, New York, Paris and New Delhi, as well as on-the-ground experience in 40 plus countries.