An international strategy consultant to the exhibition and event industry told attendees of the EEAA conference that the industry needed to transform.
Denzil Rankine, founder and executive chairman of AMR Interrnational, gave the keynote focused on transformation and improving performance, telling attendees there were “unprecedented levels of money and unprecedented numbers of people with money trying to get into this industry.”
He said the reason megafunds were investing was that “these guys have figured out it is a very attractive industry – you can make a lot of money, you can have very positive cash flow when you get the money before an exhibition is run, and you can get recurring revenues – stuff that ticks the boxes of all these financiers”.
But he warned that the industry, which had always achieved above GDP growth, was maturing and people had to figure out whether this was a “goldrush or a goldmine”.
Rankine listed a number of funds and megafunds that invested in the industry during 2017 and another list of megafunds “all desperate to get in, but they haven’t… great if you want to sell your company, but it is going to drive a lot of competitor pressure.”
The overall trend is upwards, he said. People are paying more to buy businesses because there’s so much money around, describing it as “a wall of money”.
Industry doesn’t know it has a problem
“If you are in business publishing and Google has come and wiped you out, you know you’ve got a problem. This industry doesn’t really know it has got a problem because it is still growing, but that growth is waning and we are going to see some of the difficulties coming through,” he said.
He said the United States was the world’s largest market, representing more than a third of the global market. He said while it was dominated by associations, “there are major for-profit groups, and the US market is now consolidating around four of those for-profit groups”.
Another issue was attendees becoming more demanding with standard meeting models no longer as acceptable as before. He presented data from Explori which conducts post- event research, showing attendee engagement based on 1000 shows.
“It demonstrates how happy first time visitors are (they are 41 per cent of show attendees), but as you go through the visit cycle over time you can see that there is a decline in satisfaction until the fifth time when we have this core group of regulars who are only fairly satisfied.
“What this data shows us is first time someone goes it is pretty good, then after that we are delivering less to most people, apart from those who either just love it or have to go. So that’s a challenge for the industry to actually deal with attendee satisfaction.
“It is not a game of attendee numbers… this is a game of delighting them, and what we can see is the industry is failing to delight its visitors. And the visitors are our customers, so that’s a big problem.”
He cited another problem as “the time attendees spend at events is actually decreasing”. At the same time as this trend, exhibitors are being asked to pay more due to inflation or shareholder ROI.
“But if we keep going in that direction we’re going to get pulped.”
Rankine said 80 per cent of the global exhibitions market revenue was from booth space or stand revenue, but it was growing at only two per cent, well below GDP, while the exhibitions market was growing by about five per cent.
Other sector growth rates were corporate events (based on UK only) 12 per cent p.a.; high touch events – CEO-level events with higher levels of engagement – 15 per cent p.a.; and event technology, 16 per cent p.a.
“If we are worried about the future of face-to-face (events) I can talk about high touch events, the level of engagement in IT events, which is the leading edge of change.
“If you are looking to invest in this industry then maybe some of the places to invest are NOT businesses that just focus on space sales. I am not saying the industry is failing or is going to fall over tomorrow, but we need to understand the core trends.”
He said B2R (business to retail) events, where the visitor is a retail buyer – it could be a fashion or gift event – are suffering across the globe.
“We have changed the structure of retail, sourcing has been revolutionised by technology, more sources, more channels; retail is consolidating and the consumer journey is changing. So we will find that jewellery, gift, fashion, major events with major revenues are either stagnant or going backwards. And we are going to see more difficulty in that sector.”
He gave an interesting example of a high touch event: $100,000 a year to be a member of a club where, as a member, you will go to visit five factories a year if you are in aerospace – Airbus, Boeing, etc. The one day factory visit also includes a meeting.
“So join the club for $100,000 – that’s a high-touch event. There’s strong growth in those types of things…there’s a virtual circle in those types of events proving the need for face-to-face,” he said.
Rankine said internationally some organisers were extending beyond booth space revenue, offering a range of other services such as an IT support event that also offers training, implementation resources and some consulting. Another trend was the ‘festivalisation’ of events. He cited Reed’s co-investment in a festival-type event, the rise of Comic-Con, and a number of festivalised meetings in the technology sector.
The event, held at Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre was attended by more than 100 delegates.