The Highs and Lows of the Exhibition and Conference Market Sector - Recently, Key Note exhibited at The Business Show in the ExCeL London Exhibition and Convention Centre. It was a great experience for us to meet like-minded people from so many different industries and explain to them how they all can benefit from using our services. It was also a fantastic opportunity to network with existing customers, either by chance or by visiting their stands directly just to say hello.

A month later, still intrigued by the exhibitions and conferences sector, I decided to read the Exhibitions & Conferences Key Note Market Report written and researched for by our prolific editorial team. I wanted to find answers to these questions: How has the overall market coped since the financial crisis? What are the key drivers in this industry? And last but not least, I wanted to read some evidence-based predictions on how the market will fair in the future. Here are my findings after reading the report…

How Has the Overall Market Coped Since the Financial Crisis?

Unfortunately, the exhibitions and conferences market dropped significantly by 1.5% in 2013; however, for the keener eye, it’s not all doom and gloom. While the overall market has declined, the exhibitions sector has gone from strength to strength, with Key Note estimating a rise in value of 8.1% in 2013 alone. The overall downturn can be attributed almost entirely to the continuing decline in the conferences sector, which fell by 3.3% in the same year. Demand for conferences has been particularly hard-hit following the recession, with this sector tending to rely on business among small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), many of which have struggled to stay afloat since the economic downturn. The continued roll out of severe austerity measures by the Government, which has resulted in widespread spending cuts across both national and local government, has also had a negative impact on the conferences sector, with public-sector organisations representing one of the most important sources of income for conference organisers in the UK.

What Are the Key Drivers for the UK Exhibitions Sector?

In contrast to the conferences sector, the exhibitions sector has performed strongly, benefitting from renewed business confidence, more flexible marketing budgets and the legacy effect of the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, which helped to promote the UK’s events sector on a global platform.

Renewed confidence in the return on investment (ROI) of exhibitions across industry has also helped to drive growth within the sector in recent years, with many businesses continuing to underline the value of face-to-face meetings and events, and the important role that they play in driving future growth and generating new business.

Another key driver for the UK’s exhibitions sector is increased investment in facilities all over the British Isles — including the new builds of EventCity in Manchester and The Kent Event Centre, in addition to Scotland’s investment in Glasgow for the Commonwealth Games in 2014 and the Aberdeen Exhibition Centre — illustrating that there are plenty of new exciting destinations away from the hub of London for exhibitions to thrive.

Key Note Predictions

  1. Although Key Note predicts continued growth in the exhibitions sector, this will not be enough to offset the downwards pressure being put on the total market by the decline in conference expenditure until at least 2016.
  2. As expected by most, the UK exhibitions market remains heavily dominated by business in and around London, Key Note predict that more niche exhibitions will pop up around the UK to satisfy the market’s need for growth.
  3. Another trick that exhibitions and conferences are only just starting to realise they’d missed, is the collection of data from their exhibitors and attendees. The use, or even sale, of this data/research could contribute to the sector’s bright future.

With This in Mind, How Should You Interact with Exhibitions and Conferences?

Our findings suggest that the exhibitions sector is recovering well from the effects of the financial crisis of 2008/2009. A growing number of businesses and organisations will see the benefits of exhibiting at trade shows and events, especially at more niche shows that will attract members of specific target markets. More venues and shows around the country will mean less travelling for some, and possibly unique results due to interactions happening in a different environment away from the over-stimulating hustle and bustle of London. We believe the market offers our business more choices than ever before and, for that reason, we’ll keep a close eye on future exhibiting opportunities. We won’t go to them all, and neither should you, but in 2015, you’re very likely to find a show that will benefit you and if you can’t... there’s a gap in the market that before long someone in the exhibitions sector will fill.


Liam joined the marketing department in May 2015, as neither a writer nor an editor, he offers a unique perspective on the content of our reports.