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The Tradeshow Times: America Is Open for Business

After suffering through pandemic postponements, cancellations, and closures, America is open for business. It did not start that way in the beginning of the year, but business has been flourishing through the last three quarters because of pent-up demand … and because of the desire to interact face-to-face. People are past ready to get back to normal, and they have been proving it through their actions, and their spending habits.

Travel, retail, entertainment, and tradeshows are having their best numbers since the start of the pandemic. People feel safe, and are traveling for both business and pleasure. The TSA screened 2,560,623 individuals at airports nationwide the Sunday after Thanksgiving (a post-pandemic record). While official driving numbers have not been released as of this writing, AAA has estimated that Thanksgiving week 2022 will be the third busiest in the past twenty-three years. Retail sales are booming. Online sales set a new Black Friday record of $9.12B; at the same time, brick and mortar sales increased as well. According to a Forbes November 27 article, “in-store sales were up 12% year-over-year, on Black Friday”. The National Retail Federation forecasted the number of shoppers Thanksgiving weekend at 166.3 million, which would be eight million more shoppers than in 2019. Further, the NRF is predicting record sales between $942 and $960 billion this holiday season. In the entertainment world, audiences are returning live and in-person. Two summer movie blockbusters set records in terms of dollars and live audience numbers. On September 3, 2022, 8.1 million people nationwide paid to attend movies in person. Broadway sales are averaging 86% of capacity, according to a Variety article on September 27. And last, but definitely not least, crowds are back at trade shows … sometimes in huge numbers. Below are a few of many examples:

➢ SEMA attracted 135,000 people.

➢ NY ComicCon drew over 200,000 fans.

➢ MODEX attendance was up 20% over 2019.

➢ NAB numbers were up 13.5% over 2019.

➢ IMEX was up 45% over last year, and scheduled 62,000 business appointments.

➢ Pack Expo set records for both attendance and number of exhibitors.

➢ Label Expo had a record setting number of first timers.

➢ IAAPA had attendees from 104 countries.

➢ ISC West, Printing, and Equip all set records for attendance and/or number of exhibitors.

Despite the positive news above, we live in an uncertain world. A majority of economists are predicting a recession. This pre-recession period, however, is different from other recessionary times: Labor numbers are up; unemployment is down; and while the first two quarters of 2022 showed negative growth (typically a defining sign of a recession), quarter three showed positive-growth. In my opinion, the Fed waited too long to raise interest rates, then overreacted, and now continues to look in the rear-view mirror while driving the economy towards the cliff.

Whether a recession happens in 2023 or not, there are several reasons to be optimistic about the business future of tradeshows.

➢ The Industry has a history of being resistant to recession, and resilient in recovery.

➢ Recent surveys by AMEX and by Cvent indicate a strong 2023.

➢ The Industry is all about face-to-face. People want to see and be seen.

➢ The Industry is too big to fail.

Tradeshows work. They work very well. They make dollars, and they make sense. Barring some catastrophic event, tradeshow numbers for 2023 will exceed pre-pandemic ones. But in order to succeed moving forward – whether the show is digital, live or hybrid – we must all work together to create a positive show-floor experience. We need to engage buyers and sellers, and offer them reasons to leave their offices, their houses, and their remote areas of business.

willwork logo 2021Bob McGlincy is director, business management at Willwork Global Event Services. Willwork creates engaging, energized, and exceptional event experiences. Bob can be contacted at

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