The Center for Exhibition Industry Research (CEIR) reports that the U.S. business-to-business (B2B) exhibitions industry improved significantly in the fourth quarter of 2021 from the previous seven quarters. Cancellation rates for physical in-person events dropped to 12.5% from 91.3% in the first quarter, 66.2% in the second quarter and 20.6% in the third quarter of 2021. About 98% of exhibitions were cancelled during the second half of 2020.
Figure 1: B2B Exhibitions Industry Cancellation Rate, %
The drop in cancellations boosted the Q4 Index result, though the CEIR Total Index – a measure of overall exhibition performance – remains below 2019 results, registering a decline of 45.3% compared to 2019 as shown in Figure 2 below. This is a vast improvement compared to the three prior quarters: a decline of 94.0% from 2019 in Q1 2021, 75.6% from 2019 in Q2 2021 and 50.6% from 2019 in Q3 2021.
The performance of the U.S. economy was far better, registering a robust 3.2% increase in real (inflation-adjusted) GDP from Q4 2019. It increased at an annual adjusted rate of 7% from the previous quarter, a strong acceleration from 2.3% annual rate of growth in the third quarter. The acceleration in real GDP in the fourth quarter primarily reflects increases in private inventory investment, exports, personal consumption expenditures, and nonresidential fixed investment that were partly offset by decreases in both federal and state and local government spending. Imports, which are a subtraction in the calculation of GDP, increased. Thus far, economic recovery is led by strong spending on goods as services industries are seeing a far slower rebound.
Figure 2: Real GDP vs. CEIR Total Index, Q1 2020 – Q4 2021, % Change from 2019
Among cancelled events in Q4 2021, 75.8% instead offered digital events, up from 69.4% in Q3 2021.
Figure 3: Distribution of Digital and Non-Digital Among Cancelled In-Person Events
Figure 4 provides insights among events that happened in Q4 2021, comparing performance to Q4 2019. Q4 2021 results speak to a choppy recovery that is underway, though the industry is slowly improving overall. Excluding cancelled events, the Total Index for completed events in Q4 2021 dropped by 40.5% from 2019 (Figure 4), compared to a decline of 54.9% from 2019 in Q1 2021, 39.8% from 2019 in Q2 2021 and 45.8% from 2019 in Q3 2021. Attendees suffered the largest fall of 43.2%, followed by Net Square Feet (NSF) plunging by 41.9%. Real Revenues tumbled 40.6%. Exhibitors in Q4 was the metric that contracted the least, 36.2% from the fourth quarter of 2019.
Figure 4: Q4 2021 CEIR Metrics for the Overall Exhibition Industry Excluding Cancellations, % Change from Q4 2019
The U.S. economy has been growing since May 2020. With a sharp rebound in the third quarter of 2020 and a continued recovery through the fourth quarter of 2021, real GDP in Q4 2021 exceeded its peak in the fourth quarter of 2019 by 3.2%. Omicron infections dampened economic activities during the fourth quarter of 2021. However, the latest data for January 2022 shows that real personal consumption expenditures have regained growth momentum, rising 1.5% from the previous month and 5.4% from a year ago. With vaccination eligibility extended to children ages 5 to 11, the U.S. population with at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine reached 76.6% on 8 March 2022.
“Rising vaccination rates and continued robust economic activities bode well for the B2B exhibition industry,” said CEIR Economist Dr. Allen Shaw, Chief Economist for Global Economic Consulting Associates, Inc. “The B2B exhibition cancellation rate should decline further.” CEIR survey research and Index results indicate recovery of the industry will accelerate. CEIR Omnichannel Study results indicate strong intent to return in 2022, particularly on the exhibitor side but with slightly softer intent to return among attendees. The core values of the B2B exhibition channel motivate a return to participating, as COVID ebbs.
There is pent-up demand for face-to-face engagement. The January 2022 COVID Impact and Recovery survey results indicate the overwhelming percentage of organizers are holding the course, with plans to run their 2022 events, despite Omicron as a factor when the survey was fielded. “With more vaccine mandates and safety measures implemented at large gatherings, and with a majority of the population vaccinated, the recovery of B2B exhibitions should continue in 2022, unless a new variant causes a severe fifth wave of COVID-19 infections,” added CEIR CEO Cathy Breden, CMP, CAE, CEM.
The Center for Exhibition Industry Research (CEIR) plans to release the 2022 CEIR Index Report in early May, which analyzes the 2021 exhibition industry performance and provides an economic and exhibition industry outlook for the next three years. CEIR collects data directly from exhibition organizers, who are encouraged to provide their show data by using the Event Performance Analyzer. In exchange for submitting data for a valid B2B exhibition, this tool enables an organizer to instantly see how an event’s performance compares to CEIR Index benchmarks at no cost. Data submission is strictly confidential. Click here for more information. The annual CEIR Index Report for their shows’ market sector will be provided to participating organizers at no cost. Click here for information on how to purchase the complete 2021 CEIR Index Report as well as individual sector reports.
EXPLANATION AND DEFINITIONS OF Q4 COMPARISONS: As explained above, in 2020, nearly 98% of trade shows scheduled to be held in the fourth quarter were cancelled, limiting the usefulness of comparisons of Q4 2021 and Q4 2020 results, as any positive change would be very large and misleading. A more useful comparison is to the 2019 performance, measured as the industry benchmark before COVID-19 forced the shutdown. Thus, events in the fourth quarter of 2021 are compared with those in the fourth quarter of 2019 in Figure 2 and Figure 4. The CEIR Total Index in Figure 2 is a weighted average that includes both cancelled events, with zero values for all exhibition metrics, and completed events. The Total Index in Figure 4 excludes cancelled events.
The Center for Exhibition Industry Research (CEIR) serves to advance the growth, awareness and value of exhibitions and other face-to-face marketing events by producing and delivering knowledge-based research tools that enable stakeholder organizations to enhance their ability to meet current and emerging customer needs, improve their business performance and strengthen their competitive position. For additional information, visit www.ceir.org