Technological Tools Can Help Rebuild Exhibitor Confidence — Here’s How

September 4, 2020

Matthew Funge

Matthew Funge is managing director and founder of Your Stand Builder, an award-winning event tech company based in London that focuses on digitalizing trade show planning processes around the world.

With the COVID-19 situation thankfully now appearing to improve in a number of locations and a return to trade shows on the horizon, it’s a critical time for event profs everywhere as we try to support the global recovery as much as possible over the coming months.

This, however, leads us to another problem which is becoming increasingly common around the world, and is being reported frequently across industry media outlets: exhibitor confidence.

While numerous governments are giving the green light for business events to resume, it is painful to still see many events cancelling their 2020 edition due to them no longer being commercially viable. On the one hand, it is perfectly understandable from the exhibitor’s point of view, given that there are significant travel restrictions still in place and the legal position of employers with regards to COVID risk to employees is still very much a “grey area.” On the other hand, it is alarming that so many exhibiting companies are hesitant to return to events in the short term, and this has the potential to further impact our industry at a time when that is the last thing we all need.

With many businesses seeing lower than anticipated revenue in 2020, there is a slight desperation in some parts to get back to normal to try and salvage something from this year while they still can. So what exactly can be done to repair this lack of confidence, and to encourage more exhibitors to get back inside convention centers across the world as quickly as possible?

Part of this will come down to time and allowing the confidence to return naturally over the weeks and months ahead. Another key factor which will affect how quickly confidence builds up is the development of a vaccine that can be offered on a large scale, as this will almost immediately give people more peace of mind. Both of these are valid but outside of our control. When we stop to consider exactly what it is that we can do, technology comes to mind.

If we can make the planning processes as simple as possible for exhibitors, that will help to remove the barriers which stand in front of them starting to exhibit at business events again. As an industry we have a responsibility to support exhibitors at this challenging time, and we need to take it upon ourselves to restore confidence in order to aid the recovery of the industry which employs us. Here are just a few ways in which this could be achieved.

Web-based platforms to sell booth space

Start at the beginning of the process, which is when an exhibitor actually books their booth for an event that they would like to exhibit at. Typically this would involve a lot of emails or phone calls back and forth, with a game of negotiation with regards to the price (which is, of course, almost always flexible).

While it clearly works from a practical point of view, and has for years, the very fact that it is a protracted process might be enough to put some exhibitors off if they do not have the time or resource with everything else which is going on at the moment.

Instead, organizers should seek digitalize the process of selling stand space by launching all of the available options on an online portal, which acts as a self-service platform for prospective exhibitors to find, compare and select their booth space as quickly and conveniently as possible.

The exhibitor can be safe in the knowledge that pricing is completely transparent, as well as save valuable time when confirming their stand at their chosen trade show. The simplicity of this new approach might well be enough to encourage more exhibitors to return to events in the short term.

Online matchmaking portals to find suppliers

Once the booth space is booked, the next big task on the list is finding high-quality, trusted suppliers for the various parts of your event exhibiting experience. Usually the exhibitor would search companies online before contacting them one-by-one to obtain quotes/proposals for their requirements.

Again, this does work from a practical standpoint, but it is not the most efficient way of sourcing these valued partners in the new digital age. The days of requesting prices from companies individually are long gone, and in most industries the introduction of matching or comparison marketplaces has revolutionized this time-consuming process and completely transformed the way buyers and sellers interact.

Instead, why not make use of innovative technologies that have been specifically designed to make your life easier? If you can spend a few minutes uploading or publishing your requirements on a single online platform, to then have it shared with an extensive network of local suppliers with a view to receiving multiple no obligation quotes — then it would be crazy not to take advantage of this!

Check-In/arrival management software

Nobody enjoys queuing at the best of times, let alone during an ongoing global pandemic. While this would usually be frustrating, there is now a serious health concern which will have a large number of exhibitors hesitant to send their employees to a location which could pose an unnecessarily high health risk, and that is directly affecting exhibitor confidence as a result.

Going forward it is becoming increasingly clear that some form of arrival management is going to be required to adhere to the rules and regulations which have now become commonplace in our daily lives. With this in mind, there is now a fantastic opportunity for intelligent event tech companies to develop check-in or arrival management software solutions to keep control of arriving exhibitors.

By introducing a management tool, the exhibitors’ arrival could be staggered and monitored to ensure there are never too many people at one time trying to enter the venue or surrounding areas. This way, exhibitors can feel secure about having a presence at the event. In this regard the feeling of safety will instil confidence, allowing events to build back up to their previous level and in turn, have a hugely positive impact across the industry.

Of course these are only a few of the ways which technology can assist the bounce back of trade shows, and much more can surely be done, however it provides a very strong starting point for us to move forward from. In essence, the overall idea is that technological tools can remove the barriers – no matter how big or small – to exhibiting at events in the immediate aftermath of COVID. As an industry we want to work together to make it as easy as possible for exhibitors to exhibit, meaning that organizers will be able to run their events as planned, and the world can get back to doing business in one of the best ways it knows how. Our target phrase should be clear, concise and simple: “It’s so easy, why wouldn’t you exhibit?!”

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