Written by DMN, IG's design and build arm.
Brexit is finally official, but what exactly does that mean for industries, like exhibitions and trade shows, which rely on visitors and selling products? Can the UK exhibition industry, without free movement of goods and people, still compete with its European-based competitors who do not have this additional hurdle?
The reality is no one truly knows what the outcome of any of this will be. It is the first time anyone has ever left the Union, and opinion is split on its impact on every aspect of life, and the exhibition industry is no different.
This makes planning a very tricky thing to do. Many businesses and exhibitions are carrying on as usual, while others are trying to be more positive and planning for a tremendous opportunity ahead. It simply comes down to your personal opinions and markets, and where you believe opportunities lie.
The one thing no one is recommending is a “do nothing” approach. With the British Chambers of Commerce noting in a recent report that:
“Chamber members are concerned about the potential emergence of new trade barriers which could complicate trade with the EU. A minority of companies have even taken mitigation strategies, such as setting up new receiving companies or their own logistics infrastructure on the continent, in order to ensure the same level of service to their customers and suppliers.” [xx]
So simply sitting back and waiting for the outcome is putting yourself at a disadvantage over those who are still exhibiting or attending exhibitions. Proactivity is the order of the day, and you still have to stay at the forefront of your market, no matter what that looks like.
The argument over whether the UK exhibition market will be more or less appealing to EU companies has strong advocates on either side. However, for businesses, the reality is every change in any market is an opportunity.
The terms of how you do business might alter, and the way you approach exhibitions and what you offer might have to be tweaked, but they are still potential customers regardless of where they are if they are in the market for what you offer.
You would not currently ignore a potential customer from somewhere merely because of the lack of free trade. You would simply adjust your offering to fit; that will not change regardless of any Brexit deal.
Things will change, but as long as you remain proactive, and tackle each change as it arises, there is no real need to change the purpose or planning of your exhibitions, it is only the behind the scenes details that have altered. So you will still need to put on a show and demonstrate what your company is about, regardless of where the customers come from.
A central role
One thing to pay close attention to is not what doors are shutting, but which are now opening. The UK government might be changing how we interact with the EU, but this has only made them more keen to bring other businesses and partners into the UK.
These deals and opportunities will be central to the post-Brexit success of the country, and the exhibition industry will be instrumental in making this work. It is the UK exhibition industry that will be putting on display to the world what we have to offer.
Also promoting the UK to international markets will become increasingly important. Creating new responsibilities for industry associations such as MIA, HBAA, ESSA or EVCOM.
So, it is in everyone’s interest to find a solution that keeps the exhibition industry as vibrant and appealing as it has always been. Hopefully, this will mean building in arrangements and understandings that help benefit those leading the way by exhibiting.
Our feeling is that, whatever sort of trade deal is finally signed, U.K businesses will simply have to work harder to sell their products in Europe. This, in our opinion, will result in an increase in U.K companies exhibiting overseas.
The UK has one of the world’s most innovative and exciting exhibition industries, and Brexit has not changed that. With such passion, expertise, creativity and skill available for exhibitors to call upon exhibitions are still just as exciting or appealing to markets anywhere in the world.
The other thing to remember is we are only leaving the European Union, not Europe.
Europe is still the UK’s closest neighbour and one of the world’s largest markets. It is also according to a British Chambers of Commerce report our “top priority market for businesses when it comes to future investment, followed by North America, with other regions roughly equal thereafter in their importance”[xx].
With 36% of companies planning to increase exports to the EU in the next 5 years, over 25% focusing North America. So, the EU will remain the UK’s key focus for overseas investment for the foreseeable future, no matter the outcome of the negotiations.
Also, we will by no means be the only European country not in the EU, and they are managing quite well. So many of the same benefits remain, as in it is a large market, it is close, and it has huge spending potential.
It is simply down to businesses to make sure what they are offering is appealing and competitive, and an exhibition is often the best place to demonstrate just that.