DALLAS – The Center for Exhibition Industry Research (CEIR) reports that the U.S. business-to-business (B2B) exhibitions industry improved significantly in the first quarter of 2022 from the previous eight quarters. Compared to 2021, cancellation rates for physical in-person events continues to drop with a cancellation rate of 9.2% in Q1 2022, compared to 91.3% in the first quarter of 2021, 66.2% in the second quarter, 20.6% in the third quarter and 12.5% in the fourth quarter. About 98% of exhibitions were cancelled during the second half of 2020.
Figure 1: B2B Exhibitions Industry Cancellation Rate, %
The drop in cancellations and the improvement in completed events boosted the Q1 2022 Index result. However, as expected, the CEIR Total Index – a measure of overall exhibition performance – remains below 2019 levels, registering a decline of 37.9% compared to 2019 as shown in Figure 2 below. Still, this is a vast improvement compared to the four prior quarters: a decline of 94.0% from 2019 in Q1 2021, 75.6% from 2019 in Q2 2021, 50.6% from 2019 in Q3 2021 and 45.3% from 2019 in Q4 2021.
The performance of the U.S. economy was far better, registering a 4.8% increase in real (inflation-adjusted) GDP from Q1 2019. Real GDP declined at a seasonally adjusted annual rate (SAAR) of 1.4% from the strong previous quarter (6.9% SAAR). The drop in real GDP reflected smaller increases in private inventory investment levels, lower exports, and reduced government spending at all levels. Imports, which are a subtraction in the calculation of GDP, increased dramatically at the same time. Personal consumption expenditures, nonresidential fixed investment and residential fixed investment increased. During the past two years, economic recovery has been led by strong spending on goods. However, the initially sluggish recovery in services industries recently has picked up the pace.
Figure 2: Real GDP vs. CEIR Total Index, Q1 2020-Q1 2022, % Change from 2019
Of all the shows originally scheduled to be held in the first quarter, 1.6% were postponed, 8.3% cancelled and 90.1% completed as scheduled. Excluding postponed events, the cancellation rate reached 9.2%, as indicated previously. Among cancelled events in Q1 2022, 50% instead offered digital events, down from 78.5% in Q4 2021.
Figure 3: Distribution of Digital and Non-Digital Among Cancelled In-Person Events
Figure 4 provides insights among events that happened in Q1 2022, comparing performance to Q1 2019. Q1 2022 results speak to a continued, choppy and uneven recovery that is underway, though the direction is positive, with the industry slowly improving overall. Among completed events, 15.3% have surpassed their pre-pandemic levels of the CEIR Total Index. Excluding cancelled events, the Total Index for completed events in Q1 2022 dropped by 31.5% from 2019 (Figure 4), compared to a decline of 54.9% from 2019 in Q1 2021, 39.8% from 2019 in Q2 2021, 45.8% from 2019 in Q3 2021 and 40.5% from 2019 in Q4 2021. Real Revenues suffered the largest fall of 34.2%, followed by Attendees with a decline of 32.9%. Exhibitors tumbled 30.1%. Net Square Feet (NSF) in Q1 was the metric that contracted the least, 29% from the first quarter of 2019.
Figure 4: Q1 2022 CEIR Metrics for the Overall Exhibition Industry Excluding Cancellations, % Change from Q1 2019
“B2B exhibitions offer opportunities for buyers to find alternative reasonable-price supplies under the current elevated inflation environment and persistence of global supply chain challenges,” said CEIR Economist Dr. Allen Shaw, Chief Economist for Global Economic Consulting Associates, Inc. “The B2B exhibition cancellation rate should decline further and the performance of completed events will continue to improve.”
CEIR survey research and Index results indicate recovery of the industry will accelerate. CEIR Omnichannel Study results indicate strong intent to return in 2022, particularly on the exhibitor side but with slightly softer intent to return among attendees. The core values of the B2B exhibition channel motivate a return to participating, as COVID-19 ebbs.
There continues to be pent-up demand for face-to-face engagement. The January 2022 COVID-19 Impact and Recovery survey results indicate the overwhelming percentage of organizers have plans to run their 2022 events, despite COVID-19 as a factor when the survey was fielded.
“Despite Omicron at the outset of 2022, our industry pressed on; many have held their events and have done so successfully and safely,” added CEIR CEO Cathy Breden, CMP-F, CAE, CEM. “While it will take time to get back to 2019 performance levels, we are on our way. With vaccine mandates and safety measures implemented at large gatherings, and with a majority of the population vaccinated, the recovery of B2B exhibitions should continue in 2022, unless a new variant causes a severe fifth wave of COVID-19 infections.”
Τhe Center for Exhibition Industry Research (CEIR) plans to release the 2022 CEIR Index Report on 24 May, which analyzes the 2021 exhibition industry performance and provides an economic and exhibition industry outlook for the next three years. CEIR collects data directly from exhibition organizers, who are encouraged to provide their show data by using the Event Performance Analyzer. In exchange for submitting data for a valid B2B exhibition, this tool enables an organizer to instantly see how an event’s performance compares to CEIR Index benchmarks at no cost. This tool was recently updated and provides users with a forecast for 2022. Data submission is strictly confidential. Click here for more information. The annual CEIR Index Report for their shows’ market sector will be provided to participating organizers at no cost.