The 2018 SASiE Report: Is ’flat’ the new ‘up’ for UK exhibitions?


SASiE Report

This article first appeared in the SASiE 2018 report, published in June 2019.

The SASiE report shows year-on-year comparisons across event industry metrics including detailed trends, analysis and insights from the organiser and supplier sectors. The below is a commentary and summary of the latest report from our executive chairman of GES EMEA - Nick Marshall. 

Is ’flat’ the new ‘up’ for UK exhibitions? 

The latest SASiE data confirms our experience at GES: we are riding a mature exhibition market in the UK with strong, consistent performance but low growth at the macro level. The audience is increasingly domestic, probably a good thing with ongoing Brexit uncertainty, although we can (and do) host international blockbuster events with aplomb.

Organisers are increasingly focused on leveraging overseas potential, whether geo-cloning existing assets or acquiring new, and private equity is still investing enthusiastically on the back of that anticipated growth trajectory.

The world’s biggest for-profit exhibition players are based in London, and looking at consolidation; reducing back office costs while aggregating audiences and communities of high-value visitors.

Smaller, second tier exhibition organisers may have a ready market to sell to but they’ll need to demonstrate international potential and scalability to attract the best multiples.

However, the market is diversifying to include pure-play conference producers, major brands running their own large scale customer ‘festivals’ and the peripatetic associations rotating through major European cities.

So what does that mean for the UK supply chain?

The good news is that our domestic market remains strong – buoyed by a robust entrepreneurial spirit and launching in new niches, focused on content and ‘curated’ visitor experiences.

Our organiser clients are engaging with us much earlier in the event lifecycle and becoming more creative and innovative in their thinking: a development we relish. Our role has evolved to be as much about event design and customer journey mapping as it is about build. Working collaboratively with ops, marketing and sales we are leveraging our collective knowledge to develop a dynamic show floor that excites exhibitors and engages attendees in equal measure. That means new products - analogue and digital - but also new ways of thinking in how we facilitate the buyer/seller dynamic.

That investment in the overall customer experience appears to be paying dividends: visitor numbers are growing. Greater show density - as long as audience quality is maintained - can only be good news for exhibitor rebook and retention.

The growth in conferences may have slowed slightly year-over-year but is still trending upwards from its 2015 base. This supports other industry research around visitor motivation; the key drivers of novelty and networking are joined by a desire for education, inspiration and professional development.

The demand for high quality content creation and delivery has spawned new opportunities for suppliers in AV, motion graphics and technical production. These younger, education-hungry audiences expect rock star speakers, knock-out graphics and career-changing content. Tired, old style PowerPoint sales pitches will not pass muster.

The digital disruption we have fretted over for a decade or more appears to be complementary to face-to-face marketing - not its death knell. Organisers are learning how to leverage technology as part of an overall integrated offer and understand their true value to exhibitors as the gatekeepers of their community - not simply ‘real estate’ agents.

Sustainability is back as a board level issue. Whether it’s the ‘Greta Thunberg’ or the ‘David Attenborough’ effect may depend on your age, but they have galvanised our collective consciousness and brought renewed focus as to how we address our environmental legacy. I certainly don’t have all the answers. There’s much more we can do but collaboration is key: on recycling, using fabric over wood, hiring products that can be re-used (not single use) and encouraging exhibitors to follow suit with meaningful incentives.

The newly published SASiE report for 2018 is distributed free of charge to all AEV, AEO and ESSA members and is also available to non-members from the AEV for £349 + VAT. To get your copy, send an email to

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