Nic Young
10 January 2018 00:00


It’s that time of year again when inboxes get inundated with a constant stream of articles and newsletters full of trends predictions for the coming year and opinions on how the year has panned out for the industry plus predicting the future for 2018. In this article, Sharna Gilbert, Business Intelligence Manager for the NEC Group reviews the upcoming event and exhibition trends that could be affecting you and your business this year:

It’s very easy to get bogged down in the content thrown at you, for example the never ending new ‘must-use’ technology launches, how the UK marketplace is changing, how your business needs to understand how to communicate with millennials and understand how they disseminate content differently to older generations.

What’s important in our opinion is to retain a clarity of what’s crucial for your business, to be able to relate the new trends to how they will make life better or easier for your customers, clients or visitors.

Organisers of conferences and exhibitions are seeing a shift in the way marketing budgets are allocated, with a higher focus on live events and digital marketing. This is borne out by the quarterly results detailing UK marketing expenditure published by IPA Bellwether¹ in October that Q3 marketing budgets net balances were up 9.4% in Q3 vs +2.1% in Q2

For the events industry, whether its conferences or exhibitions one of the key challenges cited by various research this year is how to counter the declining delegate numbers for conferences, and how to attract the right audience to exhibitions.

For the conference industry, the latest BMEIS report² reports that although the volume of events is stable the number of delegates are down on average, and this is also a trend reflected in UFI’s 5 trends to watch in 2018. 

With our customers and clients central to everything we do in the events industry, understanding how best to serve them is essential to continuing success, and helping to drive visitor and delegate growth is an integral aim running through many of the trends highlighted for next year.

A few trends that we have communicated internally to the NEC Group business and which we see reported externally, and that have come through the feedback we receive from our visitors and clients include:

Be a collaborative partner

Venues offering a more collaborative and innovative approach are key requirements, from both a flexible space offering, but also being proactive with ideas and location wide events or attractions to help organisers with the increasingly difficult task of attracting delegates to their events. Our clients value a partnership approach with effective and integrated teamwork.  

Feedback from our organisers shows that events that work best, and run the most smoothly, are those where there is a cohesive team approach, with the venue understanding the organisers business, and being able to proactively suggest ways of helping them to improve the event.

Is it an exhibition, is it a conference or is it a social event?

Another of the trends highlighted is the shifting away from a clearly delineated split between a conference and exhibition. The arrival of festivals and summits in the B2B landscape have highlighted the importance of providing events that complement the digital landscape, there is no longer such a strict line between business and entertainment. Experiential is a buzz word that has been bandied around for a number of years, but the emergence of events like the Festival of Marketing, VET festival shows that attendees to an event want to learn, expand their networks and discover new products, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t want to have fun too.

Technology – it’s not all about the latest toy

In a world where technology is ever changing and evolving, the big challenge for the events industry

is to be able to distinguish between the shiny new toy and technology that will improve the event

and help to drive ROI. The focus needs to not be on what’s new in the technology marketplace, but what technology exists to make the event better and will seamlessly connect to the existing event setup.

 For food and catering outlets, an example of using technology effectively is through the use of e-queue management technology to improve customer service and make certain touchpoints much easier for visitors to navigate. A key challenge for food and catering outlets especially during busy events, is managing the long queues, especially as research has shown over two thirds of customers are put off by long queues. Being able to join an ‘e-queue’ and to carry on enjoying the event until it’s your turn to order helps to keep both the visitor and your organiser/exhibitor happy as this frees up visitors to spend more time in the exhibition.


Security and making your visitors feel safe

Security has always been an important concern for venues and providing a safe environment for customers has to be top of the agenda for any venue. The horrific terror attacks in 2017 have heightened concerns and meant that venues need to give visitors confidence in the security of the venue. This has required operational changes and increased security for venues.

24-hour security, full screening of all attendees and enhanced staff training, plus many other measures have been implemented across venues since the attacks.  Whilst operationally this can cause delays in entering venues, customer feedback has been universally positive and supportive of these measures.

In summary, trends reports are always a good thing to read and this time of year they are ideal to help energise your ideas and plans for the new year, but it’s important to keep front of mind the question of whether or not it will help your customers/clients/visitors improve their experience.


Source References

  1. The IPA Bellwether Report is researched and published by Markit Economics on behalf of the IPA. First published on the 17th July 2000, it features original data drawn from a panel of around 300 UK marketing professionals and provides a key indicator of the health of the economy.
  2. The BMEIS survey 2017/18 (The British Meetings & Events Industry Survey) is an annual survey including data from 340 top corporate and association event organisers. BMEIS is commissioned by CAT Publications and carried out by The Right Solution.