Trade fair companies have had to come up with new strategies during the pandemic. Even after the crisis is over, hybrid events will be increasingly common.
The hybrid IFA 2020 Special Edition was held last September. Over 1,450 companies from 30 countries exhibited, 150 of them on-site in Berlin. Participants listened to keynotes, press conferences and talks either live or on demand in the IFA Xtended Space. They were able to explore the digital exhibition space and use the matchmaking tool for networking. The IFA will be taking place on-site again in 2021 assuming it is allowed, and physical trade fairs will generally continue to be indispensable in future because face-to-face meetings build trust. But one thing will not change between now and then: trade fairs will no longer just be taking place physically at a particular time; you will be able to experience them at any time, anywhere in the world. Consequently, events will be smaller, resulting in less revenue for event organisers. But the opportunities appear to be greater than the risks.
The much greater reach of hybrid trade fairs is often put forward as an advantage. This is not a question of pure numbers but of reaching those parts of the target group(s) that previously couldn’t take part – either because getting there was too expensive, they didn’t have the time, or they felt it would require too much work. Hybrid events with digital trade fair elements enable these people to be integrated more easily. That creates close ties with a trade fair brand and may subsequently lead to them attending the physical trade fair in future. A hybrid event can also still reach people after the physical event is finished. You can access or stage digital event elements at any time: you are not limited to the dates of the actual physical event.
Matchmaking works more effectively with digital support. People can have online chats to arrange a meeting before or during a trade fair. This meeting can take place at an exhibition stand, somewhere else at the trade fair centre or anywhere else in the world – perhaps virtually, which would also have a positive impact on carbon emissions. Trade fair organisers will have to be prepared to change. That is critical to the success of this new business model. They will need to develop into relationship managers rather than focusing merely on selling exhibition space and tickets. And they should also try to find ways of benefiting financially from this matchmaking. They could use the greater measurability and efficiency of hybrid events as a further sales argument.
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