Virtual Trade Shows: Are They Heading Our Way?

Mathew Hance

The concept of virtual trade shows will be considered by astute businesses, so could they catch on long term?

At first glance, the idea of virtual trade shows seems entirely at odds with a company like ours with decades of experience building bespoke and off the shelf physical structures for live events.

Equally, the concept of a business relying on one trade show every 12 months and then retreating back into its operating space flies in the face of the need to maintain relationships and develop leads all year round.

So, let’s take a look at what we think are the likely, unlikely and possible outcomes for the industry.


As advocates of a new, virtual approach look to establish a new world order, it’s important for traditionalists to recognise a few indisputable facts:

  • Exhibition organisers will now be forced to look into digital alternatives more than ever before.
  • Businesses that relied on market access through exhibitions will need to find temporary solutions for their sales.
  • Buyers will explore digital sourcing options despite all the drawbacks of the non-tangible, less transparent medium.

If advocates of the hugely popular and traditional trade show schedule ignore those three inevitabilities, they do so at their own risk.

Eventorganisers must accept that while there is social distancing and recession, exhibitors and sponsors will do all they can to grow their pipeline with the digital options and budgets available to them.

If they achieve their objectives digitally, what percentage of their marketing budgets will flow back into events when the world recovers from this crisis?


The huge argument against that is the universal acceptance that nothing beats face-to-face interaction – handling the products and looking a potential vendor in the eye – where person to person business is concerned.

Traditional physical shows are where we want to get back to. The buzz and hubbub of superb qualitative and quantitative engagement and data collection. Meeting new people, characters, developing chemistry.

There can never be a substitute for people building good rapport and pressing the flesh, once it’s allowed again. The best contracts are agreed and signed based on trust from that initial first impression and the track record that follows.

But could a virtual solution be a great way to build on that, to prompt continued dialogue and lead generation and keep the information sharing element alive for the rest of the year?

Virtual trade shows deserve a slot in the exhibition calendar, with many organisations now looking at the option as added value and complementary to the flagship events.

Kicking off the year with a physical show in January and then a virtual one in June focusing on certain specific spotlighted elements for an invited audience only, could make economic and commercial sense.

It’s also an option that might give businesses the opportunity to ‘slice’ their following and key clients in different ways to offer tailored virtual events at the right time and place.

And with attendees giving their details in the joining information, could it be a ready-made and easy to gather database of areas ripe for diversification and exploration?

Certainly, the Covid-induced birth of the Zoom era and the virtual event platforms that will inevitably follow, mean there’s a renewed appetite for exploring different forms of engagement.


The hybrid approach – part virtual and part physical – is the option that represents the best reduced risk, with businesses able to push new products on a micro basis to an informed and invited audience.

The birth of smaller, socially distanced regional events run in conjunction with virtual add-ons could be the best option going forward.

Once there, it wouldn’t be a quantum leap for us at CDI World to create virtual spaces and place them in a virtual environment where our clients can safely bring their customers to showcase certain elements of their business.


Given all the evidence currently to hand, the outcome could be one of these:

Likely – After experimenting with all digital options, the market discovers the true value of exhibitions, being as relevant and necessary as ever.

Unlikely – After experimenting with all digital options, the market decides that exhibitions are a thing of the past.

Possible – After experimenting with all digital options, the market discovers the benefits as well as the limitations of virtual events and a new blend of exhibitions in combination with new digital tools emerges.

It’s been tough not meeting our own customers these past few months because good business is all about building relationships, understanding each other’s needs and helping them through any challenges.

So once events recommence, it will be an opportunity to catch up, renew old acquaintances and maybe even discuss a virtual resilience plan should these dark days ever visit us again.

Call us for a chat about your requirements on +44(0) 7876 335644 or email

Mathew Hance is CDI World’s UK and European Marketing Executive.

Contact Us

Talk to us today to find out how we can support you with your exhibit or event, ensuring a memorable and impactful brand experience.

Contact Us

Communication Design International (Singapore) Pte. Ltd. – A member of CDI Holding Pte. Ltd. group of companies dba. CDI World


© CDI World 2024