A growing undercurrent of apprehension is silently permeating the exhibition industry’s future, creating an unspoken dialogue that deserves our attention. Numerous critical factors have converged, reaching a pivotal juncture. Despite the occasional reassuring words from various venues, particularly within the local market, deep-seated anxieties persist.
Repeated claims that 2022 marked a resurgence now appear misplaced, attributed to an influx of shows carrying over bookings from 2020 year and exhibitors benefiting from government support. Yet, with the safety net removed and the unfolding economic landscape, it is an understatement to say that unease is pervasive.
Central to these concerns is the industry’s reinvention and its impending evolution in the years to come. It’s a matter as straightforward as a modular structure, which seemingly clings to a historical template with minimal innovation. Compounding this is the escalating issue of excessive charges. The steady surge in fees by venues and suppliers is casting a discernible impact.
As I transition into a role that cedes the reins to the next generation, it’s disheartening that organisers can no longer absorb the exorbitant double-digit hikes while sustaining the scale of their shows. Exhibitors, grappling with mounting hire charges and an array of newfound expenses, are threatening withdrawal.
This year’s landscape has thus far yielded mixed results, with the majority of shows witnessing a reduction in exhibitor participation and physical footprint. Attendance, for the most part, has either plateaued or regressed from last year’s metrics. Lamentably, the absence of a reliable record-keeping system places these figures at the mercy of organisers, rendering their credibility uncertain.
Beneath these surface concerns, a deeper anxiety is brewing — the potential erosion of the industry’s distinctive character, replaced by a purely transactional and financial ethos.
Reminiscing readers will recall luminaries like John Aufmanus, Philip Morgan, Alan Echolm, Mal Cadby, Peter Hillman, Peter Thorpe (both of them), Mal Williamson, John Armstrong, Roy Castle, and Trevor Riddell, who shaped the landscape. Their shared attribute was integrity, delivering on their promises during times more arduous than our contemporary age. What set them apart was their personal touch, even amidst competition, driven by a collective dedication to the industry. Regrettably, that spirit is largely absent today as most businesses are a corporation and sizable business where they are run by financial controllers as the pupetere.
In the present milieu, the industry has transformed into a stage for upstarts primarily motivated by the bottom line, fostering a cutthroat atmosphere with little regard for individual well-being. This seismic shift, I believe, underpins the simmering anxiety. The question persists: Who are the emerging figures, and more importantly, how can they network to steer the industry forward? Although a handful of siblings have ascended to key roles, their lack of interaction and collaboration hinders progress. Addressing this gap is pivotal for the industry’s future.
While gestures like the EEAA’s efforts to engage young members are commendable, the true essence lies in uniting these future leaders. Regrettably, this vital aspect seems to have eluded the committee, even within the new association. Our most promising avenue is to assemble future owners and leaders in a shared space, cultivating a program of renewal and PERSONALITY.
Apprehension is warranted, but action is imperative. It’s time to dispense with superficial pretences and chart a comprehensive path forward as an industry. While the task may be formidable, the maturity and magnitude of our sector may yet prove up to the challenge.