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Year in Review

Originally published by Trade Show Executive

Year’s end always brings with it a certain amount of reflection. We are fortunate to be in a strong industry for which this process is more of an exercise in critical thinking, and the challenges we face have more to do with making our industry just that much better rather than any type of crisis management. Nonetheless, a few issues did make their way to the forefront this year which offered industry leaders the opportunity to flex their strategic thought processes.

The International Monetary Fund is forecasting global growth at 3.0 percent for 2019, its lowest level since 2008-09, and is projected to grow to 3.4 percent in 2020. The Group of Four: China, Eurozone, Japan and the U.S. make up about half of global GDP. There is much uncertainty especially in the Group of Four, where a much slower pace of global activity could materialize.

2019 has generally been a good year for the U.S. economy and as we learned this past September at the Center for Exhibition Industry Research’s (CEIR) Predict conference, this year shows the industry experienced moderate growth with the forecast for 2020 showing slowing growth. CEIR reported in its 2019 Q2 findings that the exhibition industry has followed suit, staying slightly under the GDP trend.

Naturally, the different industry sectors each have their own stats to report, but one of the shared perspectives of our industry leaders is how to best market their shows because face-to-face interaction is the preferred way to connect in the business-to-business (B2B) marketplace. The consensus among top executives has been that staying on top of personalized event experiences, building trust among their communities and creating innovative activations at shows have held top ranks in their priorities this year.

Another issue at the forefront of executive leaders’ minds has been the ongoing development in global risks and threats, such as trade tensions. These situations have made it very clear that industry leaders must have a global development plan in place. In the exhibitions and events industry, where collaboration is critical, 2019 has seen great strides in the expansion of global markets. For example, IAEE opened a new office in China this past October and announced its first international extension of a regional event, Expo! Expo! MENA in September 2020 (Abu Dhabi). Again, bringing buyers and sellers together is still the preferred B2B marketing channel across the world, and shows no signs of slowing down in the coming year.

Speaking of collaboration, advocacy remained a core initiative for our industry on the domestic front, as reflected in the success we had with this year’s U.S. Exhibitions Day and Global Exhibitions Day. IAEE and its members presented our industry’s perspective to congressional leaders regarding the need for improving our transportation infrastructure, protecting Brand USA and facilitating international travel. With close to 120 voices from all walks of our industry, we were able to support important legislation addressing these issues. As you can most likely predict, the importance of ongoing advocacy will continue well beyond 2019!

Those are some of the broader strokes our industry took in 2019. In taking a closer look, industry leaders honed their attention on workforce development. Again, CEIR Predict pointed out that one of the biggest factors affecting the economy is the shift in the workforce as we see more boomers exiting the industry into retirement. Rising student loan debt has brought about a resurgent (and much needed, according to some) interest in the trade industries. Younger professionals are exploring their options.

Which leads to the question, how do industry leaders recruit and retain top talent? As I discussed last month, the dropping rate of unemployment in the U.S. presents its own challenge to this question. Top executives are beginning to focus more on the kind of professional growth opportunities they offer their team members.

How we continue to address these questions will lead the charge as we enter the coming year. The beauty of the exhibitions and events industry is that we are masters at adapting, and our strength lies in the collaborative business environment that comes naturally to us. It is with this spirit that I wish you a warm holiday season, and look forward to greeting 2020 with you next month!

David DuBois, CMP, CAE, FASAE, CTA
President & CEO

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