In 2003 CENTREX Union has decided to launch a multinational visitor survey. The research was conducted in 5 countries of Central East Europe (Poland, Ukraine, Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary) in the time frame of August 2003 and February 2004, at 18 business-to-business (B2B) trade fairs and at 17 business-to-consumer (B2C) fairs, through personal interviewing of over 6,000 visitors of the events. Samples were taken at random but the same uniform questions were asked in all places at all times.
The survey and analysis was concluded at the end of August 2004 and it was first discussed at CENTREX Board meeting on September 3, in Ceské Budejovice (CZ).
The major objective of research - started on initiative of and conducted by CENTREX Union itself - was to try to arrive at relevant and important conclusions drawn from wide ranging research by asking visitors - the ultimate customers of the exhibition industry. The first of its kind in Central East Europe - and the first multinational exhibition industry survey - considering today's economic and social aspects of the region it was focused to obtain the opinions, the perceptions, appraisals and visions of the visitors of fairs and exhibitions - impersonating the real market demands in real-time environment.
Beyond these objectives it was an important condition that the answers sought through the questions could be internationally comparable, assessable vis-?-vis similar surveys conducted in Western Europe or in the United States. Are there factors in which Central East Europe should consider she has special or different features and which are the factors where the results arrived at in Central East Europe are similar to those in other countries and so these factors can be considered of universal validity?
A few remarks out of the findings:
- Both fairs and exhibitions remained popular - and in some cases their attraction goes beyond reasonable (beyond pure potential buyers' as visitors) We hold the continuous renovation of the fairs and exhibitions in the past 10-15 years as reasons, their adaptation to serve the current demands and that the response given to the challenges has once again brought rediscovery of opportunities exhibitions carry along;
- Most of the visitors attend in average 2-3 events a year;
- Over 50 p.c. of the visitors do not make any preparations before they set their feet on the fairground, (so there is plenty of room and need for arousing desire to change this ignorance to improve real efficiency of the visits);
- Distance whatsoever to visit a fair and exhibition does not play role for nearly 30-35 p.c. of the visitors;
- Time spent on visits, on travel to and from is a justified investment according to the visitors. In aggregate figures the visitors spend 8-9 hours on a single visit to a fair or exhibition. The efficiency of the time investment can be greatly improved by thorough preparations well in advance;
- An average B2B visitor shares his/her experiences with 6 further persons, a B2C visitor spread his/her opinion to 5.5 more persons. This means the sheer visitor numbers can be multiplied at least by 6 to calculate the real value of the reach for the messages at the fairs and exhibitions.
- Fairs and exhibitions are such marketing communication tools, which with their face-to-face character, with their coexisting simultaneous direct and indirect technique are not only unique tools, but - based on their multiplicatory effects and on the very fact that personal communication has a much higher validity of potential influence (and lead quality) - they seem to be the most efficient tool (or at least one of them).
- At B2B events the visit of the superiors give additional quality indicator to the value level of the audience. More than 53 p.c. of the visitors said they know their bosses also visit the trade fair.
- The business efficiency of the visit is further increased by the demand on visitors to submit some sort of reports, memos on the experiences. 53 p.c. of them answered they have to give account of their visit at least verbally;
- Raising awareness of the visitors towards the events seems to have many information channels to work with. As a significant indicator (and a proof of high influence of personal experiences) it is the 'attended earlier' (and partly "friends, colleagues") that is mentioned most frequently (36-38 p. c.). At B2B trade fairs the direct, personalised invitations by exhibitors and by the organisers have substantial importance while at B2C consumer fairs traditional ATL tools still hold good positions. Internet is emerging as a remarkable additional source of information (and a good option for better preparedness);
- Visitors ranked "Finding new products, sources, ideas" as their visit objective ?.1. (68 p. c. mentioned this), and 64 p. c. mentioned need for up-to-date information before a forthcoming business decision. It clearly indicates that trade fairs, exhibitions ceased to be plain product showcases, information sources: they have become professional face-to-face business meeting points;
- Fairs are still very attractive leisure programmes (43 p. c. mentioned this) however it has lost position ?. 1. as visit objective: "finding new products" and "up-to-date information for decisions" with their respective 65 and 57 p. c. indications took over lead. These have become the major functions of present consumer fairs!
- As a general conclusion we may state that in respect of five evaluation criteria of the survey exhibitions have high prestige, with ranking on top as best, most efficient marketing and marketing communication tool in the hand of the professional, business visitors;
- In getting objective market overview the mark for trade fairs (in the scale of 1 to 5 as most effective to least effective) was '2.26' - the closest was '2.4'. In finding new products, sources, ideas trade fairs reached '2.33' (closest was '2.5'), in strengthening relations with existing suppliers '2.02' (closest was '2.58'). at preparing decisions trade fairs were evaluated at '2.26' (closest was '2.75') and in assisting personal professional development trade fairs reached '1.95' (while closest was 2.48');
- We need to emphasise that the questionnaires were aimed not at communication efficiency only but were oriented expressed at marketing strategy and sales development. This adds to the positive judgement since it shows how high added values exhibitions provide in the business-connected activities - both as marketing as well as marketing communication tools. This creates straight way towards direct contribution to the profitability;
- The result of survey made at fairs' visitors was also remarkable when comparing fairs with other marketing and marketing communication tools. Fairs received 2.37 - 2.41 in average and in all cases have the ?. 1 positions - not only when assessing strategic features as getting an objective market overview and discovery of new products and suppliers but also when inquiring about their capabilities as a place and occasion of active leisure time programme. It needs to be mentioned however, that visitors of fairs are also intensively related to use of Internet (it has got 2.52 to 3.27 average ratings);
- As for the near future of fairs and exhibitions: 80-83 p. c. of the visitors are of the opinion that they shall be useful and efficient tools for their businesses and personal interests in the next 5-6 years as well.
CENTREX Board has decided that this is only the beginning of an in-depth analysis of the present 'state-of-art' and many further conclusions shall be drawn and action plans drafted by our exhibition industry specialists as well as in the different business communities - members, non-members, national exhibition associations etc.
The conclusions may reach out at least in two directions. The exhibition industry may see her pride being justified to operate tools in her hands, which even under the circumstances of globalisation can perform effectively and successfully while being used by exhibitors and visitors. However, it is to be seen that there are still many opportunities, chances lost - often of substantial volumes - when using or planning to use fairs, exhibitions on full.
It was recommended that the results and conclusions to be dissipated not only among the narrow exhibition industry and for the marketing communication specialists but also to communicate rightly in the business community and among the educational circles all over. These may be important steps towards organising better exhibitions and fairs serving better the business and individual long-term interests of the exhibitors and visitors.
The complete survey report shall be printed in English in the next few weeks and can be ordered at CENTREX Union at EUR 80 + VAT (25%)