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Understanding the exhibition industry in 2024

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The Big Picture: Why You Should Read This Post

If you’re a marketing manager looking to level up your game in the exhibition industry, you’re in the right place. Here’s what you’ll get out of this jam-packed guide:

  1. Decoding the Industry: Unravel what the exhibition industry is, from trade shows to consumer events. Great for marketing managers who need to know the playing field.
  2. Audience Know-How: Understand the types of people attending these shows. This helps you to tailor your marketing efforts like a pro.
  3. Key Players Unveiled: Get the lowdown on everyone involved, from organisers to attendees. Know who you’re dealing with to strategise effectively.
  4. COVID-19 Rebound: Understand how the industry is recovering from the pandemic so you’re not caught off guard.
  5. The Bigger Picture: Get insights into the global scope of exhibitions, especially if you’re eyeing markets like the UK, USA, and South Africa.
  6. Practical Tips: From planning to overcoming challenges, we’ve got actionable advice to make your next exhibition a winner.

Defining the Game: What is the Exhibition Industry?

Let’s cut through the jargon and get to the heart of the exhibition industry.

It’s a dynamic space where businesses and consumers come together to get stuff done. But it’s not a one-size-fits-all, so let’s break it down.


First up, let’s talk about trade shows. Trade shows are where businesses showcase their offerings to other companies.

Think of it as a networking event with many more gadgets and spreadsheets. It’s usually an industry-specific affair and all about making B2B connections.

Consumer exhibitions are very different and introduce a distinct dynamic. They revolve around welcoming and engaging with the everyday consumer, embodying a B2C (business-to-consumer) atmosphere.

These events are where you showcase your products and services to the everyday consumer, the Joe Publics of the world.

It’s a fantastic opportunity to entice and engage with a broader audience and leave a lasting impression. 

Industry-Specific Expos

Most industries and sectors have specialised industry expos that can be likened to exclusive gatherings tailored for businesses. For instance, a tech expo is where tech enthusiasts converge, while those in the food and beer industry might savour gourmet treats at a food expo. 

These events are precisely honed to cater to specific industries’ distinct requirements and passions.

Expos typically attract diverse audiences, but the specific attendees can vary depending on the expo type. Here’s a general overview:

  1. Industry Professionals: These are individuals directly involved in the respective industry, such as professionals, experts, and decision-makers. They attend expos to network, discover new trends, and explore business opportunities.
  2. Business Owners: Entrepreneurs and business owners visit expos to seek partnerships, source products or services, and stay updated on industry advancements that can benefit their companies.
  3. Trade Visitors: These individuals are often from related businesses, including suppliers, distributors, and retailers. They come to expos to establish business relationships and explore potential collaborations.
  4. Consumers: In consumer-focused expos, the general public is the primary audience. These attendees are interested in discovering new products, enjoying entertainment, and experiencing brand interactions.
  5. Government Representatives: Officials and government representatives may attend expos related to policy or industry regulation to gather information and engage with stakeholders.
  6. Media: Journalists, bloggers, and content creators attend expos to report on new developments, products, and trends within the industry.
  7. Students and Educators: In educational and career-focused expos, students, teachers, and educational institutions participate in exploring career opportunities and educational pathways.
  8. Enthusiasts: Some expos, such as hobby or interest-based expos (e.g., comic conventions, car shows), attract enthusiasts and fans of specific hobbies or interests.
  9. Investors: Expos related to startups and innovations often draw investors looking for promising ventures to support.
  10. International Attendees: Depending on the expo’s significance, it may attract attendees worldwide, expanding networking opportunities and global perspectives.

Expo attendees are often severe and dedicated to their industry. They travel or attend these events for a good reason.

Time is precious, and expo attendees are there with a specific goal in mind: to explore new opportunities, gain knowledge, make connections, or discover the latest trends.

Their commitment reflects their dedication to their industry or interests.

In summary, companies benefit from dedicated and focused expo attendees, translating to meaningful engagement, quality leads, effective networking, improved brand exposure, valuable insights, and efficient resource utilisation. It’s an opportunity to make the most of expo participation.

Trade Shows – Key Players

When using trade shows as part of your marketing strategy, it’s crucial to understand the key players and the role they play.

We’re breaking it down into three main roles: Organisers, Exhibitors, and Attendees. Each plays a unique part in this complex dance that turns a trade show from a ‘meh’ event into a full-on, unmissable spectacle.

  • Organisers: For marketing managers, understanding the role of event organisers is crucial. These professionals are responsible for creating the platform where marketing strategies come to life. They secure the venue, coordinate logistics, and ensure the event runs smoothly. Marketing managers need to be aware of the competence and reputation of organisers when selecting exhibitions for their marketing strategies.
  • Exhibitors: As marketing managers are often involved in the decision to participate in expos, they need to recognise themselves in this role. They are the ones who bring their brand’s message, products, and creativity to the forefront. Effective collaboration between marketing managers and their chosen exhibitors is essential for achieving marketing goals.
  • Attendees: Attendees are the primary focus of marketing managers’ efforts. These are the individuals marketing managers aim to impress, whether they are industry professionals or curious consumers. Understanding the diverse audience at expos helps marketing managers tailor their strategies to engage and leave a lasting impact on these attendees effectively.

Recovery from COVID-19 Impact

The global exhibition market is experiencing a solid recovery after the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Exhibition Market is predicted to be worth $88.6 billion by 2026. The industry is on fire – a growth rate of 5.3% from 2020.

Although this arguably was hampered by the COVID-19 pandemic, COVID-19 had a significant impact on the industry. The industry is estimated to have lost around $330 billion in missed trade between exhibitors.

The factors contributing to Growth

Despite the losses, several factors contributing to this positive outlook, including economic stabilisation, policy shifts in China, reduced recessionary fears, and a positive industry outlook in general from the market leaders and experts.

Face-to-Face Value: Despite the growth of digital and data-driven approaches, the enduring value of face-to-face exhibitions is highlighted as a critical factor in the industry’s recovery.

A Brief History of Exhibitions

Alright, history class is in session, but don’t worry, there won’t be a quiz. Knowing where exhibitions come from can give you a leg up. So, let’s wind back the clock and see how we got to where we are today.

Milestone Events: From the Great Exhibition to the Digital Age

Let’s kick things off with a bang—the Great Exhibition of 1851 in London. This was the big one, folks. Held in the jaw-dropping Crystal Palace, it was the world’s first international expo, drawing in six million visitors.

That’s a lot of handshakes and pamphlets!

Fast forward to the 20th century, and we’ve got the rise of trade shows post-WWII, especially in the USA. Businesses found a new playground to show off their latest and greatest.

Then came the digital revolution. The internet and social media took exhibitions to a new level. Nowadays, thanks to virtual exhibitions, you can network without leaving your sofa!

It’s different than grabbing freebies in person, but hey, it’s still cool.

The Evolution of Exhibition Technologies: From Print to VR

Technology – the game-changer. Remember the days of printing stacks of brochures and hand-drawn banners? But we’ve moved on.

First, it was digital displays and interactive kiosks. Have you got a new product? Show it off in style with some flashy visuals – this was the big message at the time.

Then came social media – were you live-tweeting your exhibition? Standard. Instagramming your stand? Absolutely.

And now, we’re stepping into Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR).

Picture this: putting on a headset and walking through a virtual exhibit, all from the comfort of your home.

VR is a massive, untapped world, and we’re just beginning this epic journey.

The Goldmine: Why Exhibitions Are a Marketer’s Paradise

If you’re considering diving into the exhibition scene. Good on you! Trust me, it’s a marketer’s paradise for a reason. Let’s break down why exhibitions are the golden goose of marketing opportunities.


First up, let’s talk visibility. Exhibitions are like the Super Bowl for businesses, just without the half-time show. You’re on a level playing field with industry giants and startups, all vying for attention.

The right stand in the right place can skyrocket your brand exposure. It’s your chance to be seen and, more importantly – remembered.

Networking Opportunities: It’s Who You Know

The age-old saying, “It’s not what you know, but who you know.” And let me tell you, exhibitions are networking nirvana.

You could bump into a future business partner, a potential investor, or even your next big client.

Sales Generation: The Numbers Speak

Let’s talk money. An exhibition can give your sales a proper boost. With a well-trained team and a killer product demo, you will close deals on the floor. And even if you don’t, the leads you collect are gold dust for your sales team to follow up on later.

Data Collection: The Gold in the Details

Last but not least, let’s talk about data. Yeah, it might not be as sexy as closing a big deal, but the data you gather is invaluable.

We’re talking attendee demographics, engagement levels, and which products got the most eyeballs. The intel will shape your future marketing strategies.

And there you go! Exhibitions are more than just a day out of the office. They’re a full-on, multi-faceted marketing bonanza. So, are you ready to strike gold?

The Global Lens: Exhibitions Beyond Borders

We’ve covered the what, why, and how of exhibitions, but let’s think bigger—global. Exhibitions aren’t just a local affair; they’re a worldwide phenomenon. Here’s how to navigate the international waters.`

Key Markets: UK, USA, and South Africa

First off, let’s talk hotspots. The UK is a no-brainer. It’s a hub for international business, and let’s face it, we’ve been doing exhibitions since the 1850s. But don’t sleep on the USA; they’re big on trade shows, especially in tech and healthcare.

And then there’s South Africa, a rising star in the exhibition scene, particularly in sectors like tourism and agriculture.

Lessons Learned

You don’t have to take my word for it—let’s look at some real-world examples. In the UK, events like London Tech Week draw global attention. In the USA, CES in Las Vegas is a tech Mecca. And over in South Africa, the Tourism Indaba is making waves.

These events attract exhibitors from all around the world, but be mindful of cautionary tales—companies that don’t do their homework can turn a fantastic exhibition stand into a laughing stock, or worse, repel and offend visitors.

Take, for example, An Owl. The UK has wise symbology associated with an Owl. But in places such as Italy, most of Africa, China and Greece, they’re bad luck.

The key takeaway? Know your market and plan meticulously.

Cultural Nuances: What Works Where

Last but not least, let’s talk culture. What flies in London might flop in New York or Johannesburg. Whether it’s the style of your stand, the swag you’re handing out, or even the way you greet attendees, the little things matter.

For example, in the USA, they love their freebies. In South Africa, a solid visual story can make a huge impact. And here in the UK, let’s say we appreciate a bit of wit and charm.

Here are other things to consider when it comes to avoiding tragedy when planning your exhibition.

Crafting Your Strategy: How to Win at Exhibitions

Alright, you’re sold on the whole exhibition thing. But how do you go from zero to hero? Simple: Strategy. And not just any strategy—a killer one. Let’s break it down.


First things first, you’ve got to plan. I’m talking spreadsheets, Gantt charts, the whole shebang. You need to know what you’re spending and when. Are you going big with an eye-popping stand, or are you keeping it lean?

Either way, you need a budget and a timeline, and you need to stick to them. Remember, the early bird doesn’t just get the worm; it also brings the best spots and deals.


Your stand is your stage, so make it count. Think about your brand identity and how you can bring it to life.

Should you go minimalist or maximalist? High-tech or handmade? Whatever you choose, make it so good that people can’t help but stop and stare. And don’t forget the small touches—good lighting, comfy furniture, and maybe even some plants make all the difference.


Okay, you’ve got them to your stand. Now what? It is time to engage. Passive approaches like flyers and freebies are acceptable, but why not step it up?

Live demos, interactive displays, and a cheeky contest can draw people in. The goal is to make you stand an experience, not just a billboard.


Last but not least, you’ve got to measure your success. Set up Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) beforehand.

Are you looking to gather leads, make sales, or boost brand awareness? Then, crunch the numbers post-show to see your ROI (Return On Investment).

Did you achieve what you set out to do? If not, what can you tweak for next time?

Troubleshooting: Common Challenges and How to Overcome Them

Alright, let’s keep it accurate. Though we’d love everything without a hitch, exhibitions can be a minefield of potential snags. But don’t fret; we’ve got your back. Here’s how to troubleshoot the everyday challenges.


Have you ever felt sinking when you realise your stand doesn’t fit the allocated space? Or your graphics are pixelated and look like a retro video game.

The key here is pre-emptive action. Always double-check dimensions and file resolutions. And for heaven’s sake, do a dry run. Assemble your stand beforehand to ensure everything fits and looks how it should.


Yeah, freebies are nice, but you can only rely on something other than a bowl of sweets to keep people engaged. You need to think creatively.

Live Q&A sessions, interactive quizzes, and quick workshops can grab attention. If you’ve got a tech product, let them get hands-on with it. If it’s a service, show them a quick demo. The point is to make your stand memorable for the right reasons.


Ah, logistics—the unsexy but essential part of any exhibition. First, shipping. Make sure you know all the rules and deadlines for your venue.

Next up, staffing. Ensure your team knows the product, the pitch, and the plan for the day. Rotate them out to keep energy levels high. And let’s not forget about the setup and teardown. Who’s doing what, and when?

A well-oiled machine doesn’t just happen; it’s planned.

Looking Ahead: The Future of Exhibitions

Okay, folks, fasten your seatbelts. We’re about to take a quick trip into the future of exhibitions. Spoiler alert: it’s looking pretty darn exciting. Here’s what’s on the horizon.


Let’s face it: the world’s waking up to the importance of being green, and the exhibition industry is no exception. We’re talking eco-friendly stands made of recycled materials, digital brochures instead of paper ones, and even carbon offset schemes for those travelling to get to the event.

Bottom line: sustainability isn’t just a buzzword; it’s becoming a must-have for any forward-thinking exhibitor.

You may also be interested in this post; it’s all about the world of sustainable stands!

Technological Innovations: What’s Next?

If you thought virtual reality (VR) was incredible, just wait. Augmented Reality (AR) is making waves, letting attendees interact with digital elements in a real-world setting. And let’s not forget about Artificial Intelligence (AI).

Imagine chatbots answering attendee queries or algorithms predicting the hottest trends in your industry. The future isn’t just tech-savvy; it’s tech-driven.

Industry Predictions: Expert Opinions

So, what do the big brains in the industry think? Well, there’s talk of exhibitions becoming more experience-focused. Think less “static stand” and more “interactive journey.”

There’s also chatter about hybrid events, blending the best of in-person and virtual experiences. And as for global trends? Keep an eye on emerging markets; they could be the exhibition hotspots of tomorrow.

Here is a blog post you may also want to read –

Publications to follow:

Keep up with the conversation on X

follow these hashtags:

  • #eventprofs
  • #exhibitions
  • #trade show
  • #networking

That’s A Wrap

Whether you’re eyeing the UK, USA, or South Africa, this guide has all the tools, tips, and insights to help you level up.

From understanding the nuts and bolts of the industry to embracing the latest tech trends, you’re now equipped to make your next exhibition a blockbuster hit. Now, what are you waiting for? Go forth and conquer!

Patrick Wells
Founder & CEO, Booth Exhibits™

Frequently asked questions

Start by defining your goals. What do you want to achieve through exhibiting (brand exposure, lead generation, client relations, etc.)?

Research industry-specific shows that align with your target audience and objectives.

Consider factors such as your brand personality, messaging, and the overall audience experience. Prioritise eye-catching visuals, effective lighting, and interactive elements. Partner with an experienced stand builder to bring your vision to life.

Absolutely! Research smaller, local exhibitions for potentially lower costs. Invest time and creativity into a compelling smaller stand with clever visual touches. Focus on quality, targeted pre-show outreach and engaging visitor interactions.

Promote your presence heavily prior to the event on social media, industry forums, and targeted outreach. Create engaging contests or demos that resonate with your ideal visitors. Train your booth staff to effectively qualify leads with focused questions.

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