After years of uphill struggle, the UK's exhibition industry is picking up -- not only more visitors, but in some cases more exhibitors. Brian Oliver discovers why the medium is more confident of recovery
There are signs that the UK exhibition industry might be starting to shake off the effects of the recession. After two or three difficult years, leading exhibition companies Blenheim, EMAP and Reed say that they are now seeing a significant rise in attendance figures. And, they claim, there is a growing mood of optimism among exhibitors and buyers.
Reed claims that its last eight events have attracted between 10% and 30% more visitors than the previous year. And the recent Marketing-sponsored Creative Packaging show increased its attendance figure by 37% -- and over 40% of exhibitors have already reserved space for the 1994 show.
"Visitors are leading the way," says Valerie Thompson, Reed Exhibition Companies' UK marketing director. "We have yet to experience a significant increase in exhibitors, but British industry is at last breaking out from the bunker mentality of the past four years -- and people are coming out to see what's available in the marketplace."
But it is not just a visitor story. London-based Truemist Professional Exhibitions trumpets that it has "defied the appalling recession in the exhibition industry", achieving a sellout well ahead of next week's Solicitors and Legal Office Exhibition.
Also highly encouraging, say some observers, is the fact that the hint of an upturn is evident across a broad range of industry sectors -- from clothing, book publishing, giftware and travel to electronics, packaging, furniture and food manufacturing.
Consumer-orientated shows seem to be faring particularly well. Only exhibitions related to the building industry, heavy engineering and computer hardware look like remaining static in terms of the number of exhibitors and attendees.
Mike Wells, chief executive of the EMAP Exhibitions Group, says: "Like other forms of media, exhibitions have not been immune from the worst effects of the recession. But the market-leading events have been extremely resilient in terms of visitors and exhibitors' support. Exhibition space at our International Spring Fair for giftware was sold out."
Michael Fletcher, UK managing director of Blenheim Exhibitions, says: "We first saw an upturn in confidence at our furniture show in January. The change in attitude among buyers was confirmed at our recent clothing show and we also had a heavy attendance at our security exhibition, even though it is building-related. The IT software sector, which accounts for one-third of our business, is also performing well. We expect to increase our profits in that area by 50% in 1993."
The exhibition industry's hopes have also been raised by the initial findings of a new survey by the Incorporated Society of British Advertisers (ISBA). According to the ISBA, UK companies spend around |pounds~539m on trade and consumer exhibitions in 1991. But the new survey indicates that many ISBA members are planning to increase their exhibition budgets this year.
"We can't put a figure on the likely increase yet, but it is the first time that our members have talked about any kind of increase for two years," says Reg Best, ISBA's director of member services. "It shows there is growing optimism and confidence. Companies have realised they have got to be out in the marketplace."
The ISBA survey also points to a growing level of activity in the private events sector -- with more companies planning to stage their own private exhibitions (for example, in hotel conference rooms). …