The State of the Virtual Trade Show and Events Industry

Posted: February 13, 2021

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the in-person trade show industry was booming. There was an in-person conference for every interest. With shows spanning from cannabis and RVs to fitness and fashion, there was an event for all. However, since countries worldwide are restricting live-events and large gatherings, the trade show industry has since turned digital to engage audiences.

Virtual trade shows are not new, but they have become the focal point of the trade show and events industry since the pandemic began. It might seem like an apparent move to some, but creating a thriving virtual environment that can host anywhere from hundreds to hundreds of thousands of attendees can be a daunting task. However, switching to virtual events is highly advantageous when examining the slew of benefits they provide companies. These benefits include ensuring business continuity, access to a larger audience, collecting more in-depth data on attendees, spending less time planning travel and lodging logistics, reduced costs, and more.

The Growth of Virtual Trade Shows and Events

The growth of virtual trade shows and events since the onset of the pandemic is staggering. From 2019 to 2020, the number of organizations planning virtual events doubled from 42% to 84%. Furthermore, 55% of virtual event planners intend to invest more resources into virtual events during 2021. Thus, indicating that event planners will leverage the virtual format as a legitimate strategy to continue engaging with their audiences, regardless of whether attendees can physically convene or not. The pandemic accelerated virtualization across the industry and illuminated an untapped channel with new ways to generate revenue, market, network, lead capture, and more.

The growth also is attributed to the value of virtualization that companies are now realizing. Virtual events offer numerous advantages, some of which include:

Expanded Reach

Hosting a virtual event increases the number of possible attendees because there are no geographical boundaries or travel costs. Consumers from around the world can register and attend the event from their home or office. The expanded reach also extends to potential exhibitors who had reservations participating in the past due to the considerable display expenses at in-person events.

Data & Metrics

Measurable data and results have always been a challenge for in-person events. However, it’s quite the contrary for a virtual event where a wealth of information and data can be collected, tracked, and analyzed. Virtual events can collect data on users while they are attending the event. Data may include which and how many attendees visited a particular exhibitor’s booth, the average time attendees watched a specific presentation or content downloaded. Both event planners and exhibitors can analyze this data and use it going forward to optimize events to fit the needs and wants of attendees.

Longer Lifecycle

Unlike in-person events, which are in the here and now, virtual events have a life after the last official day of the show. Depending on the platform, events could be available online for a couple of months to upward of a year. Audiences can visit the event on their own volition or via marketing or sales vehicles to engage with content on-demand. In short, virtual events offer long-term lead generation opportunities.  

Hybrid Trade Shows and Events

While virtual-only events have become the go-to strategy for organizers amid pandemic restrictions, hybrid models are also building momentum. The hybrid model is expected to dominate the trade show and events industries in 2021 and remain strong in the subsequent years. In fact, 62% of event planners claim that hybrid events will become the standard in the future.

So what are hybrid events? Hybrid events contain both in-person and digital elements. For example, this could be an automotive expo hosted at the Philadelphia Convention Center that also live-streams speaker panels so virtual attendees can tune in.

It is important to note that not every aspect of the in-person event needs to also be available virtually for the event to be considered hybrid. Each experience should cater to the strengths of its respective medium. Event planners and marketers must strategically decide which event elements will be available solely in-person, online, and in both locations. Deciding which content will be available, whether in-person or virtual, may help sell more event tickets or increase the ticket tier consumers purchase.

Impact on Event Planners and Organizers

The rise in popularity of virtual and hybrid trade shows is influencing how event organizers view the future of the industry. Most agree that these formats will persist in the post-pandemic world. Event planners are recognizing the benefits of virtual and hybrid events and now must decide which version (in-person, virtual, or hybrid event) will best suit their needs and goals.

Before trade shows went digital, events were not experiencing significant advancements regularly. However, virtual and hybrid events are now hosted on cutting-edge platforms that are customizable and consistently release new features. Event planners and marketers need to keep abreast of the platforms’ unique possibilities and tools and how best to utilize them.

Event organizers may also want to prepare to quickly pivot an in-person event into a virtual or hybrid model. Creating a virtual backup plan for in-person events will help guarantee the event can still occur, even if external factors such as a pandemic or inclement weather occur and interfere with the in-person aspect.


Even in the current climate, the demand and interest for trade shows and events remains unwavering. However, when the pandemic is under control, virtual and hybrid events will remain popular, as they provide safe and accessible environments that foster relationships and encourage learning.

With 46% of attendees at trade shows being part of the executive or upper management teams, how will your company incorporate virtual events into its marketing strategy in order to engage with thought leaders, decision-makers, and consumers?

If you have any questions or would like to learn how Showmetry can help make your event a success, email us at or visit us at

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