From on-site into digital—when the coronavirus spread around the world at the beginning of the year, it entailed a huge digitalization push for the industrialized countries. Inevitably, this also affected the trade fair sector. The exhibition hall, in which thousands of visitors from all over the world had been romping around shortly before, were suddenly empty—and were partly moved into virtual space. But can these virtual trade fairs really replace the classic format of the “on-site trade fair”? Or do especially on-site trade fairs have the potential to get the economy going again after the lockdown? To find answers to these questions, it is worth distinguishing between virtual trade fairs and on-site trade fairs.
The power of olfactory and haptic perception
To be successful, every company must sell its products and services. The presentation of products and services is therefore not by chance one of the central functions of trade fairs. To fulfil this function, virtual trade fairs also offer companies numerous opportunities to present their products and services in an appealing way. Completely independent of time and location, this happens—for example—in video format or through 3D visualization. In the case of the latter, visitors even have the chance to admire the exhibits from all sides. Moreover, their environmental friendliness and low costs characterize virtual trade fairs. After all, the costs for travel and accommodation as well as the need to hire stand builders no longer exist.
Despite all this, it remains questionable whether product presentations in the digital world achieve the same effects as in the real world. After all, visitors to the on-site fair benefit from the unbeatable advantage of being able to perceive the products with all their senses. The smell of food—for example—affects visitors to catering trade fairs directly. At packaging trade fairs, the public can marvel at the packaging machines while they are in action and can take novel packaging materials into their hands. Promotional presents and business cards help visitors to better remember the products.
Real encounters are indispensable
Trade fair visitors think back to the exhibited products even when the event is long over. At least partly, this effect certainly results from the personal discussions at the booth. Anyone visiting a virtual trade fair does not have to do without such encounters, either. After all, the Internet offers numerous possibilities for networking—for example in chat or via video conference. Similarly, the visitors to these events can listen to expert lectures and bring their questions about discussions.
But colleagues, family or other tasks can easily distract trade fair visitors in front of their computer screens at home or at work. The more complex the issues become, the more difficult it can be to keep a lengthy discussion going. Opposed to this, experts and trade fair visitors usually are much more involved in the respective topic when they meet in a conference room or an exhibition hall. The inspiring atmosphere of an on-site trade fair should not be underestimated in terms of knowledge transfer.
Economic prosperity for the entire region
But the positive effect of on-site trade fairs is not limited to the trade fair grounds alone. On the contrary, the positive influence is even felt far beyond the trade fair city itself. This results from the fact that events of this magnitude stimulate the economy in numerous sectors throughout the entire region. In the virtual trade fair sector, programmers and operators of trade fair platforms profit the most from the events. Compared to this, on-site trade fairs provide for the living expenses of a whole range of professional groups. No matter whether restaurants, hotels, or exhibition booth constructors—everyone benefits. According to a current study by the Trade Fairs and Exhibitions Association (German FAMA Fachverband Messen und Ausstellungen e.V.), over 1.9 million jobs all over Germany can be attributed to the events' industry. As a result, this economic sector generates sales tax revenues of approximately 20 billion euros per year.
Lockdown should be terminated soon
No matter whether in the overall economic field, in knowledge transfer or in product marketing—virtual trade fairs usually cannot compete with events that take place on site. Admittedly, virtual trade fairs are an important substitute for the times of the Corona lockdown. However, as soon as the occurrence of infection permits, on-site trade fairs should be resumed as soon as possible. After all, it is already clear that they will contribute to the economic restart after Corona in many ways. However, at least as long as worldwide travel warnings continue to exist, mixed forms of online and on-site trade fairs could also be established. There could—for example—be live coverage of similar events taking place simultaneously on other continents.
Managing Director and founder of simlea GmbH
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