Research: Volatile times

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Geoffrey Dixon and the Vivid Interface team are to be congratulated on producing The Facts 2011 about the exhibition industry so quickly and in the face of some confusion and volatility in our market. The main findings are that trade shows exhibited a slight decline in attendance of 1.4 per cent year-on-year and like-for-like (i.e. comparing the same events) between 2009 and 2010, while consumer shows declined 3.6 per cent. It is consumer shows which are bearing the brunt of falling attendances – if we look simply at the median (i.e. the ‘typical’) public events over the five-year period from 2006 to 2010, then it has lost 22 per cent of its attendance in that time. Weighing up the numbers There is no disguising the difficulty of analysing the information we have available. We recognise some 800 credible exhibitions in the UK but the number that report audited attendance figures has declined in recent years to less than 500 annually. This means we are rarely comparing the same number sets. This incoherence is best illustrated in TABLE A. This is a very raw analysis – it simply takes all the shows that reported in each year and works out the average attendance across all events. As can be seen, the crude, highly non-statistically valid result is that average attendances at UK exhibitions appear to have fallen by half over a six-year period. If we take the median attendance each year and compare it with the previous year, then we have TABLE B. The median is the mid-point (i.e. the 50th largest attendance in a set of 100) and this is usually a more reliable guide as it excludes real outliers, such as The British International Motor Show, which have the effect of distorting the numbers. On this basis, the “typical” trade show has lost 8 per cent of its attendance in the past five years, while the “typical” consumer show has lost 22 per cent. But even these figures are unsatisfactory as they exclude shows that have disappeared. Since we last drew up the “Top 200” events table at the end of 2009, no fewer than six of the 40 largest may fail to appear in 2012 (Motor Show, SED, one of the Caravan Shows, InterBuild, Glassex and InterPlas). The top 40 boasts only three shows that have “arrived in from the cold” in that period, and, interestingly, all three have been created by small operations outside the mainstream (Grand Designs by Media 10, Ecobuild by David Wood and Counter Terror Expo by Niche Events). The problem with shows which disappear is that they can no longer be compared like-for-like – hence the disappearance of the Motor Show is NOT reflected in the median consumer attendance figures in 2009 and 2010 (in reality, therefore, those figures should be worse than they are). Of our largest 10 events, only two have increased their attendances between 2006 and 2010: World Travel Market and DSEi. Of the others, half have shown declines of at least 15 per cent (such as the Furniture Show, Autumn Fair International and Ideal Home Show). What does it all mean? It is difficult to produce a coherent explanation for such a disparate set of numbers. What seems to have happened is that a lot of “largish” consumer events, which reported attendances of 20,000-40,000 towards the height of a booming market in 2005 and 2006, have either disappeared or are now refusing to publish audited attendance figures. Presumably, this is because they are smaller (it is always far easier to get information in a rising market). The disappearance of these shows affects the “average” number dramatically, while the decline of a medium-sized trade show (from perhaps 6,000 visitors to 5,000) has virtually no effect on the average. It also needs to be stressed that, as an industry, the loss of individual events does not necessarily have a dramatic effect on company health (it is not like a human body losing a leg). For example, the loss of The British International Motor Show took more than 10 per cent of the industry’s annual visitors out – a massive number – but apart from the immediate effect on the staff who worked on it, Excel London, those that built the stands and so on, it does not affect the rest of the industry. The London Vet Show meanwhile, goes from strength to strength, Top Drawer continues to look good and Brand Events generates good, new ideas. In other words, most of us work in silos that do not suffer much collateral damage when a large event disappears. Trade shows still represent nearly 75 per cent of the UK industry’s turnover – consumer shows being the rest – and an upturn in median attendance in 2010, plus relatively limited decline of just 8 per cent in attendance in five years should be seen as good rather than bad news. This is tiny compared with newspaper and magazines circulation falls, for instance. It suggests a resilience, which helps explain why exhibitions are now considered such valuable media properties. Any comments? Email exhibitionnews@mashmedia.net
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