For many German IT companies, trade fairs and conferences are important for sales and marketing. During the coronavirus pandemic, numerous major events were canceled and some were replaced by purely digital or hybrid alternatives. These new formats are likely to gain in importance beyond the pandemic. This is the result of a recent survey by the Bitkom industry association among 165 ITC companies.
Apart from major trade fairs such as the CES in Las Vegas, the MWC Barcelona or the IFA Berlin, there are numerous smaller, sometimes very industry-specific events for ICT companies and their customers. While the experience of IFA 2020 shows that large trade fairs are difficult to map digitally, smaller specialist events such as the Fiberweek of the Federal Association of Broadband Communication (Breko) also find their audience online. At the beginning of December, the Web Summit, the largest European tech conference, will also try a digital edition.
According to the Bitkom survey Such virtual or hybrid events are “of great or very great importance” for over 70 percent of German ICT companies. Almost half of the companies surveyed used digital or hybrid trade fairs for the first time this year, and a fifth have been doing so for a long time. On the other hand, companies expect that the importance of purely face-to-face events will decrease in the future. Just under 40 percent of the companies surveyed consider offline events to be relevant in the future.
“The need for exchange and networking is unbroken,” says Bitkom boss Bernhard Rohleder. “With virtual and hybrid events, this need can be met even under the difficult conditions of the pandemic. The technologies for implementation are now so diverse and interactive that some of the previously purely physical events will be replaced by digital formats in the future.”
Trade fair industry hit hard
This is not a good outlook for the event industry, which has already been hit hard by the pandemic. According to figures from the Association of the German Trade Fair Industry (AUMA), over two thirds of the trade fairs planned so far for 2020 have been canceled or postponed. After a recovery in late summer, the organizers have to due to the recent Decision of the federal government and the states now close their gates again. The fact that the federal government counts the trade fairs as “recreational activities” is causing irritation in the industry.
“The German trade fair industry basically respects the fact that many industries have to contribute,” emphasizes AUMA boss Jörn Holtmeier. He expects trade fairs to be removed from the context of leisure activities in the short term. “Equalizing trade fairs with wholesalers and retailers is more than justified. Both take place in similarly structured rooms and have largely identical functions.”
The cancellation of a major event has consequences for the local economy beyond the directly affected organizers, exhibitors and visitors. For example, the hotel industry, gastronomy, logistics and trade fair construction are affected. According to the AUMA, the macroeconomic effects amount to around 21 billion euros and 173,000 jobs are at risk.