Home 9 Trade show 9 The State of the Trade Show Industry Post-Covid

In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic caused an unprecedented crisis for the trade show industry. In fact, almost overnight, there was no trade show industry. According to the Center for Exhibition Industry Research (CEIR), 100% of exhibitions were cancelled in Q2 2020. You read that right. Every single trade show and exhibition – gone.

Fortunately, since then, the industry has rebounded and has almost hit pre-pandemic levels of revenue and attendance. The story of the trade show industry’s rise, like a phoenix from the ashes, is a tale of adaptation and perseverance.


In the depths of Covid, mass gatherings of people were both unwise from a public health perspective and often frowned upon socially. In Q3 and Q4 2020, cancellations still hovered around 98%. Instead, we witnessed a new format for the trade show spring forth before our eyes: the virtual trade show.

These events allowed people to participate and network from the comfort of their homes. Almost as suddenly as the industry shut down, it had sprung back to life, using tools like Zoom to bring people together from a distance. Still, as with all manner of virtual experiences, it wasn’t the same as meeting people face to face, and businesses hungered for a return to pre-pandemic norms.

Overall, 2020 saw a massive 68 percent drop in revenue for the trade show industry, with an estimated $224 billion loss of exhibition-related output and 2.4 million full-time jobs affected.


Fortunately, brighter days were ahead. The arrival of vaccines in early 2021 dramatically turned the Covid situation around. The cancellation rate dropped precipitously from 91.3% in Q1 2021 to 66.2% in Q2, all the way down to 20.6% in Q3. By Q2 2022, trade show cancellations were virtually nonexistent, hitting a low of 2%.

Though exhibitions were once again being mounted, attendance was still down compared to pre-pandemic numbers, as people were nervous about reemerging into the world. Bloomberg News estimated that about 11.5 million professionals attended trade shows in 2021, an encouraging 55% improvement over 2020 numbers. Still, this was less than a third of 2019 attendance, which stood at 35.3 million.

This skittishness, along with businesses having to slowly ramp up their operations again, translated into lower revenues. According to industry research, in 2022, global revenues for the trade show industry were still just 73 percent of pre-pandemic levels, and are expected to hit 87 percent in 2023.

Throughout 2022, however, pandemic nerves seemed to ease and the numbers for the industry continued a steady climb. Companies exhibited at an average of 39.9 events, more than double the numbers for the previous two years.


Now here’s the good, even great, news. There is every indication that these positive trends will continue in 2023. Though the industry will probably not fully recover from its pandemic slump, it will only be a matter of time until it does.

Companies plan to exhibit at an average of 47.2 in-person events. This is still 19 percent fewer than the 2019 rate, but 6 percent above 2018 numbers. If all goes according to plan, we will be able to confidently claim that this statistic, at least, has recovered to pre-pandemic levels.

One important fact to realize is that Covid had a different impact on different aspects of the trade show industry. During the depths of Covid, people speculated that regional events would recover first, due to their lower attendance rates and comparative lack of bureaucratic obstacles like travel bans. The data bears this out. Regional events appear to have already returned to pre-Covid levels.

National trade shows (US-based) aren’t far behind. Companies plan to exhibit at 14.4 national events, just barely below the 2019 average of 16.9 events. It’s the international trade show industry that took the hardest hit, and may not recover for many years. Companies plan to exhibit at 4.9 international events this year, less than half of the 10 events that companies attended during 2019.

Even though they were a great innovation at the time, virtual trade shows seem to be on the way out. Companies exhibited at an average of 4.6 virtual events in 2020, but are only planning on 1.5 this year. When surveyed by the RX Customer Mindset Tracker, 78 percent of businesses agreed that in-person trade shows “offer them something unique that cannot be created elsewhere.” Virtual events may linger on as extensions of or companions to live events, but they are unlikely to be the main attraction going forward.


All this is great news for Show Ready. Our crack team of custom exhibit display builders was itching to get our tools in hand and head back to the shop during the shutdowns of 2020. We’re looking forward to the full recovery of the trade show industry and to keep producing outstanding work for our clients.

Get in touch with us here and learn how we can make your business the pride of the trade show floor.


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Huntington Beach, CA 92649

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