Recently, a lot of new technologies, such as AI, Internet, Internet of Things, etc., have been applied to the exhibition industry, but most of them have failed to impress, and no actual breakthrough has been made in services and operations. The industry cannot help but wonder: where does the problem lie?
I believe that the problem lies in the lack of business models. A look at the current exhibition industry shows that most of the exhibition companies are founded with their own funds, instead of investors’ capitals. They do not even bother to develop business models to convince the investors, not to even mention business proposals. Especially, traditional exhibitions and conventions are resource driven; most of the companies only focus on mobilizing industrial resources, expanding partnership, improving relations with the government, and management and execution. Innovations, if any, are only applied to marketing methods and management tools, instead of business models. In fact, many stakeholders in the industry are still unclear about their business models, much less the difference between business and profit models.
As the saying goes, do not cover the laziness in strategy with the diligence in tactics. It is high time for the exhibition industry to think about business models. Simply put, the models determine the companies’ value and scale. Although the exhibition industry is worth trillions, there are barely any major businesses with a revenue of dozens of billions—companies that make over 100 million are already considered top of their game.
Then, what is a business model? I think it refers to the specific services targeted at a certain group, which create value and meet the demands of the group while generating sustainable returns.
Nowadays, new exhibitions are increasing. However, most of the new, interesting, and influential events are not run by traditional exhibition professionals, but people from other sectors, such as Internet, creative design, and PR. One case in point is the second 2050 Conference held this year in Yunqi, Hangzhou. Started by WANG Jian, Chairman of Alibaba’s Technology Committee, the Conference redefined “volunteers”—whoever bought the tickets were volunteers. At the event, volunteers were the smallest crowdfunding entities; they were convened by the forum conveners. As a result, the content, exhibition, and operation of the 2050 Conference were the direct contribution of the volunteers. At this event, I, along with TANG Xue, General Manager of the Hangzhou International Expo Center, also started a “new generation forum” called “Change the Future with Events”. By doing this, I experienced first-hand the organization and the business model of the 2050 Conference.
As more and more new events and venues emerge, the development of the exhibition industry is seemingly gaining momentum. However, traditional professionals are facing new challenges in the “smart” era: despite the rising bars of the exhibitors, the effects of the exhibitions and clients’ satisfaction are on the decline; events are hitting a bottleneck in growth—some even have decreasing scales.
It is now obvious that as exhibitors’ demands, technologies, and the external business environment are changing, the exhibition industry should also evolve their mindsets and business models. If traditional exhibitions and conventions stick to their old models, they will have a harder time surviving in the future.
It is still my belief that in this new economy, the exhibition industry will become more and more important. The online and offline integration is the future trend. The impacts from new groups, new technologies, and new models will force the industry to move faster in innovating their business models.