For many suppliers and their customers, trade shows are an attractive platform for knowledge exchange and personal contact. The business events provide a kind of all-round view of what's on the market in the relevant sectors and what's new - also in terms of price, quality and innovation. Industrial trade fairs in particular often present complex products that require explanation. Exhibitors have the opportunity to network at industry meetings or to observe the competition. However, a visit to a trade fair is often also associated with tourist activities - so the trade fair locations benefit in economic terms
At the same time, however, trade fairs are also associated with an enormous amount of work, especially for the exhibitors and particularly when international trade fairs are involved. The transport of products is logistically and legally complex and involves high costs, which are offset by an unclear return. What there has been less awareness of so far is that major events such as international trade fairs have an enormous ecological footprint. And regional trade fairs also repeatedly cause increased traffic volumes, traffic problems and congestion.
Laut study, trade fairs are CO2 guzzlers
The study "Trade fair industry - change of era or 'back to normal'?" by the Macromedia University of Applied Sciences in Cologne and B2B platform operator Visable international trade fairs expose trade fairs as true CO2 guzzlers. While many trade fair operators are doing everything they can to be sustainable, for example with solar panels for energy supply, the problem lies in the high volume of travel they entail. Taking the prominent International Consumer Electronics Fair (IFA) in Berlin as an example, study author Prof. Dr. Mareike Müller says: "The CO2 footprint of the IFA is enormous. It is as if Berlin were to grow by the size of Frankfurt for the duration of the trade show. That's not how you officially calculate it, but it illustrates the problem," says . At the same time, it is a problem for which there is no awareness and apparently little political will to change anything: because clear rules on CO2 accounting for trade shows would be missing.
Peter F. Schmid, CEO of Visable, says as co-initiator of the study: "Organizing trade fairs and the associated travel of international visitors cause huge amounts of CO2. But no one is tackling the issue. We can't afford that if we're serious about climate protection."
Digital trade fairs offer new opportunities
But trade shows could just as well be handled digitally and take place in virtual spaces. Suitable digital presentations can depict products and product details even more accurately, including 3D animations or even directly to scale on the production floor via augmented reality. The seller can answer customers' questions using chatbots or in person. During the Corona lockdowns, the switch to digital sales solutions was also necessary in many cases. For example, during the pandemic, Visable, which operates the Wlw (formerly "Wer liefert Was") and Europages platforms, saw the number of listed companies rise to 3 million.
Haptics and personal contact are missing
For the time being, however, purely virtual trade shows are only replacing a small proportion of the trade shows where people are present. And they are not visitor magnets. They generate only a fraction of the traffic of their physical counterparts. A survey by Visable found that 69 percent of respondents would miss professional networking, meeting new customers or social aspects. Finally, customers want to see, try, experience and test the products they are so specifically interested in. Since trade show customers are usually a special clientele, they also have an interest in meeting and getting to know each other.
One criticism of virtual trade shows is the lack of a uniform model in which content can be provided without having to deal with a new system every time. In many cases, there is a lack of will on the part of the trade fair operators themselves to keep an eye out for new and uniform solutions - as well as on the part of politicians to ensure uniform framework conditions. For the time being, virtual trade shows still seem to have too little appeal. But a change is likely to be on the horizon - especially since the sharp rise in energy and fuel prices has recently been added to the mix.
Hybrid trade fairs as a model for the future
The current Macromedia study also sees virtual or hybrid trade show models as a possible path toward sustainability. Visable CEO Peter F. Schmid is irritated, however, by the reticence of trade show organizers regarding the transition to a digital age: "Haven't enough industries slept through the digital transformation? After all, trade shows are places where information transfer and communication are at the center of attention - and both are undergoing massive changes as a result of digitization. Who seriously believes that the deeply analog trade show model from the Middle Ages doesn't have to adapt? After all, this is also an enormous opportunity for trade show operators."