5 Trade Show Industry Trends to Watch in 2024

December 6, 2023

It took our face-to-face industry only two years to essentially recover from the most serious pandemic in more than a century. The industry has managed to deal with global inflationary pressures not seen in a generation. On top of that, we have faced new wars and growing geopolitical tensions. 

Despite all of those challenges, our industry has recovered and returned to growth mode. And as investor fantasies around the metaverse and virtual events imploded, there is no lack of investors willing to put their money into our industry and our core business model. 

All of this is quite remarkable. It speaks to the power of our industry and our business model. We build and operate marketplaces and meeting places where people come together in person. The value of that simple model has been proven once again. 

So — are we all good to go for 2024? As every year, the UFI team has been listening to and talking with our members and industry leaders from all around the world to get their views on what lies ahead next year. Here, in five concise themes, is our view on what will shape the next 12 to 18 months. 

Focus, focus, focus on the changing customers 

All our conversations and surveys show that our industry is focusing ever more on the specific needs of our customers. As much as this should be a given for every business, it is here that we see expectations and demands evolving ever faster. This includes everything from real-time data on the show floor to DEI policies, from carbon budgets to matchmaking, from pricing structures to year-round activations. In 2024, we will see a lot of learning and adapting, with many of the new, young talented people who join our industry putting their skills from other industries to work in our changing industry. 

Climate crisis regulations 

In 2023, for the first time, the global surface temperature partially tracked 1.5 degrees Celsius higher than in pre-industrial times as planet Earth experienced the hottest year on average since the dawn of humanity. Extreme weather conditions will lead to more frequent show cancellations and postponements. They will also impact travel and show attendance. Climate-related reporting standards are being introduced. More and more businesses are prioritizing their investments to match emission targets. The Net Zero Carbon Events Initiative delivers good practices and evolving industry standards, but our industry will need to speed up and go beyond the “low-hanging fruit” if we want to remain in control over how our industry responds to this very real threat. 

AI is here, and it is a gamechanger 

The launch of the original iPhone on Jan. 9, 2007, became a watershed moment for many industries, including ours. As smartphone penetration grew, the way we organized and served those on our show floors around the world changed dramatically. Nov. 30, 2022, 15 years later, will go down as a date of at least similar relevance – Chat GPT was launched publicly on that day, currently the best-known example of generative artificial intelligence (GenAI). After the initial hype around it, it is clear that 2024 will be the year in which businesses will very quickly begin to use GenAI to drive developments – and yes, this includes our industry. 

Reinforcing our identity 

Our industry has just delivered a spectacular comeback, but few people have taken note of this, be that in the media or our stakeholder communities. We still struggle to find our voice as a unified industry, and we often still “sing out of tune” when we present the story of our industry to the world. While this remains an issue across the diverse event industry ecosystem, there is progress in aligning ourselves around new narratives. Advocacy efforts focused on event industry issues, talent acquisition and regulatory frameworks are receiving more attention, and we are seeing some success in industry perception and positioning – both locally and globally. We need more of this in 2024. 

Industry consolidation and new players 

We will remain an industry with a wide ecosystem of diverse players, but after the COVID pause, industry consolidation will continue and likely accelerate – on the organizers’ side as well as among venue operators and industry suppliers. Businesses of scale are simply better prepared to handle our industry’s growing global complexities. At the same time, a new cohort of launches and fast-growing new entrants will benefit from being small(ish) and nimble. This will allow them to post rapid growth in their respective areas of focus. 

Related: Listen to our November 2023 podcast with Kai Hattendorf and UFI President Michael Duck about the launch of an UFI regional chapter in North America


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