Trade Shows 2016: A Glimpse at the Future of Exhibitions

5204379898_45d235f94a_oWhat will the trade show of the future look like? A new report from a team of convention industry organizations has come up with five answers to that question.

The report, “Scenarios for the Future: Convention Exhibits & Tradeshows of 2016,” based on extensive research and interviews, sees the potential for far-reaching changes in face-to-face trade show marketing tactics over the next half a decade.

“The convention, exhibits, and trade show professional needs new options versus the current model,” said Deborah Sexton, president and CEO of the Professional Convention Management Association. The PCMA Education Foundation joined the ASAE Foundation, CEIR Foundation, Freeman Companies, and Gaylord Entertainment to deliver the 36-page report.

Here’s a glimpse of the results.

1. The Future Is Now.This is the trade show model that is prevalent today: Attendees gather in one place, once a year. It is for those who say their existing trade show is entirely viable and anticipate it being used in the near future.

2. The Future Is the Future and We Will Build It All.In this model, technology will become so disruptive that the trade show must be rebuilt to prevent digital incursions by anyone that’s not a partner. The strategy will focus on using digital technology to enhance the experience only for those at the face-to-face event—not to engage anyone outside the event. Closing off access would mean halting free Wi-Fi, building private data networks, and monetizing the event data.

3. Slow Walk to the Future.For people who believe that change is coming but that there’s time to adapt, this scenario sees a gradual evolution of the trade show model. It involves delivering a “deeply customized” participant experience and a new team-based relationship with exhibitors. It requires connecting with the right digital providers and “experience partners”—those that know how to design a show that will exceed attendee and exhibitor expectations. It will also mean adapting and improving the show’s financial and revenue models.

4. The Show’s Over (But Let’s Keep Playing).Technological changes have moved so fast that the trade show has become irrelevant. In this model, the traditional trade show is gone but organizers maintain their relationships with exhibitors by building a compelling, nimble financial and experiential model. The event is open to anyone, not just members, and brings serious financial value to exhibitors. The key is moving from big to fast.

5. The Big Reset.This is a complete reinvention of the trade show, a never-seen-before experience. Top industry professionals select the best products and services to be showcased at the event. It has entertainment and a “public-oriented” component that has nothing to do with exhibitors. No business is done at this event, but it promotes awareness of the industry and its products and services.

For organizers to build a business plan to make any changes in their trade show, they need to know where they are now. To find out, the study suggests taking a hard look at current practices by asking these questions:

• What business plan do you have in place now?

• How compelling is this plan to the marketplace and your target audience?

• How far ahead does it look and does it consider the impact of digital technologies on your industry and event?

• Does the trade show have the appropriate assets, both financial and technical, to meet the challenges it faces?

• Are the budgeting and decision-making processes clearly laid out and flexible enough to respond quickly to changes and challenges?

The new study, which is free, also offers 10 takeaways to help organizers build a business plan for the future. Go to for a copy of the report.


2 thoughts on “Trade Shows 2016: A Glimpse at the Future of Exhibitions

  1. Reference “Things you don’t want to hear at a Trade Show”:

    Irate Lady: “i put my handbag down over there, and It’s gone, I think one of your staff must have taken it. ” The Police were called, lots of angry words of denial were said, then after 30 minutes or so, this lady suddenly remembered that she did not have an handbag with her and for safety she had left it under the seat of her car. And, off she trooped without one word of apology leaving us angry and fuming.

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