With cases on the rise around the world, the ramifications of a second wave are threatening European hosted buyer events. The future of physical gatherings in the near future is uncertain, and with their reliance on in-person interactions, these trade shows are struggling to recover.
Hosted buyer events are being hit particularly hard by the widespread Covid-related shutdowns and restrictions, in part due to the difficulty of translating them to virtual and to the fact that they rely on a strong international presence that simply isn't attainable in the current climate.
The outbreak seemed to have been stabilizing in many parts of the world, allowing for a limited reopening of their economies as well as travel and tourism, but infection rates in Europe have begun to spike once again as it experiences the predicted second wave of the virus.
This has caused major hosted buyer events in the region to shift to virtual, which may be the only way for these shows to move forward for the foreseeable future.
IBTM and The Meetings Show Go Virtual
As the possibility of a large-scale comeback for trade shows looks less and less promising, many are trying their hand at a virtual alternative.
Earlier in the year, IMEX announced its Planet IMEX, a virtual experience that was meant to fill the void of the trade show with networking opportunities and educational content. They will be further developing the platform and reopening it next month to replace the Las Vegas show.
IBTM World 2020, which was originally scheduled to take place in Barcelona in December, just announced its pivot to virtual, while The Meetings Show will move from a hybrid event based in London to a fully virtual format next month. They have both teased elements of their virtual platforms and are assuring buyers and suppliers that they intend to deliver the experience that stakeholders have come to expect. If successful, they will continue to pave the way for trade shows' slow transition online.
This is significant because large-scale hosted buyer events have a vested interest in moving forward at all costs, both to salvage their stakeholders’ ROI and to demonstrate that these events can be conducted safely and profitably. Whatever the unrealised potential of virtual events, the fact is that they remain a necessary recourse from restrictions placed on in-person events.
This does not bode well for the immediate future of the hosted buyer sector.
Travel Uncertainty Jeopardizes Hosted Buyer Model
As the largest trade show destination in the world, Germany has been leading the way in the reopening of business events and is pushing for live shows to move forward. Earlier this week, the Ministry of the Interior announced that travel for business events is essential, allowing event travelers even from high-risk areas to enter the country in order to attend a trade show, but it remains to be seen whether this will be a beacon of hope for recovery.
The promise of a measure like this is to reinforce the perception of safety around both travel and large-scale international events, but the rise in new cases has prompted renewed restrictions in countries like England, with others likely to soon follow suit.
These developments will certainly have an impact on travel and do not bode well for the outlook for live gatherings on the continent. Travel is central to the success of hosted buyers as companies and professional organizations, which are the major stakeholders in hosted buyer events, are forced by the threat of legal liability to be as cautious as reasonably possible in their internal travel policies.
To quote Carina Bauer describing her decision to cancel IMEX Frankfurt:
“We looked at buyer registrations flat-line and heard everyone from hotels to tourist boards to corporations bring up their staff travel bans. The dominos were starting to fall […] Just one week later, we had the gut-wrenching realization that we had no choice but to cancel…”
The future of live events in general is still very much up in the air and will be especially rough for hosted buyer shows. They account for a significant portion of the industry, and they will need to make the leap to virtual in order to recover.
While the tech is still lacking in many areas when it comes to online trade shows, this year has seen more innovation and advancement in the virtual tech space than ever before, so we can only hope that it will rapidly get up to speed.