A Global Perspective on the Visitor Experience03-Jan-2019
In the last issue of Exhibition News, Chris Skeith told us that two-thirds of UK organisers were planning an international launch during the next two years.
So, what can the latest Explori study, in partnership with UFI, the global association of the exhibition industry, tell us about the needs and preferences of trade show visitors beyond our shores?
Does one size fit all, or do preferences differ by region?
With 13,000 survey responses, from 135 countries, Global Visitor Insights is the biggest study of the trade show visitor experience ever undertaken. It was made possible by the support of many organisers around the world, UFI’s member network and the Society of Independent Show Organizers (SISO). Unlike Explori’s global benchmarks, Global Visitor Insights doesn’t focus on single shows; their execution and their organiser. Instead, it focusses on the individual, their preferences, their business needs and their view of trade shows as a business channel, wherever they attend events.
And as such, it raises some interesting challenges for organisers who seek to court the overseas visitor – whether to launch an event internationally, or to attract visitors to events run in the UK…
Here are four challenges highlighted by the survey results:
The positive news for the industry globally, is that in the eyes of our visitors, experience of trade shows is favourable and stable. Key indicators such as overall satisfaction and Net Promoter Score have remained stable for the last three years. When asked if trade shows are getting better or worse, the majority of respondents thought they were performing about the same, if not getting a little better.
But responses change by region. If we compare regions where the trade show market is developed such as Europe and North America, there are signs of fatigue with the model. A higher proportion of respondents from developed regions told us they thought trade shows were getting worse (up to 27% vs up to 17% in developing markets).
Respondents from markets where the trade show industry is developing were much more likely to think trade shows were enjoyable and beneficial and they planned to attend trade shows even more frequently in future.
Whilst most organisers with an international mind-set are aware of the opportunities that lie in Asia and Africa, when the desire of existing visitors to attend even more shows, is combined with the scale of the unserved market, the opportunity appears even greater.
Festivalisation is a term that kept popping up in our interviews with organisers during the study – here we use it to mean any enhancement to the show format that the organiser makes with the objective of improving the visitor experience. From DJ’s to augmented reality sessions, many organisers are looking to create a “wow-factor” on the show floor.
But that doesn’t necessarily chime with the mind-set of our current visitor cohort, especially in Europe, where most visitors tell us it doesn’t matter if a trade show is entertaining as long as they can meet their business objectives. And many organisers reject the concept of festivalisation, believing it is not appropriate for the community served by their shows.
But responses from visitors in developing markets gave a clear direction: They told us they place equal value between meeting their business objectives and being entertained. They were much more likely to say trade shows should be more like festivals and to say they would spend more time at shows that were more entertaining (43% in developing markets vs 24% in developed).
When we were analysing the survey results, personally I was expecting to see attitudes to sustainability vary by age, but this was not the case. Visitors in their 30’s expressed similar attitudes to sustainability to those in their 50’s and 60’s. Whilst most (78%) thought it was important that the shows they attended were run in a sustainable way, it has a less strong behavioural impact with 38% of visitors in developed markets telling us sustainability has an effect on their decision to attend a show.
But again, we see a big difference in the developing markets, notably Middle East, Asia and Africa, where the majority of visitors (up to 58%) told us they would not attend a show that had a poor attitude towards sustainability.
Interestingly, technology could offer a solution to this. When asked, if given the opportunity to attend an event as a virtual avatar, 77% of visitors from developing markets said they would definitely do this, compared to only 48% in developed markets.
Through the survey, we had the opportunity to test how inclusive our trade shows feel to our visitors. We used a broad question to capture all aspects of how an individual may feel included or excluded: “Have you ever felt less welcome at a trade show because of your personal characteristics (such as gender, age, race etc)?”
In Europe and North America, just under one in ten visitors had felt less welcome at some point. But more starkly, one in five visitors from developing countries told us they had felt unwelcome at least once, giving reasons such as their religious or traditional dress or lack of gendered spaces. This encompassed both those attending events in their own countries or travelling overseas.
Whilst the opportunity presented by the international market may be huge and UK organisers are seeing strong growth from it, the study data suggests there will be some key characteristics amongst organisers who are most successful in satisfying the needs of new audiences.
1:They will balance the tension between fulfilling business needs and creating memorable, sharable experiences. The experience during a trade show will become as relevant as achieving business objectives in driving visitor satisfaction.
2:They will demonstrate “best-in-class” sustainability practices and communicate their efforts well. Organisers in all regions will need to clearly demonstrate their commitment to running trade shows in a sustainable way to serve the needs of their current visitors and attract new visitors, particularly those from developing markets.
3:They will leverage technology to increase participation. Successful organisers will continue to horizon scan for new technology but will only implement solutions that complement the objectives of their visitors.
4:They will work with the whole community around their show, including venues and exhibitors to ensure that a welcoming environment exists for all visitors.
5:They will provide enough seats – It’s a universal complaint, topping the list of visitor frustrations by some distance. From Birmingham to Beijing, our visitors are telling us they would really like a sit down!
This article first appeared in Exhibition News