Reed Exhibitions – which accounted for 16% of the revenue and 13% of the operating profit of its RELX parent in 2019 – has incurred an operating loss of -£117 million in the first half of 2020. This compares with a profit of £231 million same time last year. Ouch.
It’s a familiar enough Covid story, of course. But there are growing signs that – far from a return to normality, even in the third quarter of 2020 – many international trade shows will be unable to take place before next year
Travel restrictions and continuing fears of a viral resurgence create a real dilemma for exhibition organisers: whether to organise a reduced event and risk exhibitor and visitor disappointment – or postpone until 2021 and come back strongly. Writing off all 2020 revenue is tough but there may increasingly be no choice.
For Reed, that dilemma is increasingly posed by its largest UK show, the World Travel Market (WTM). The event is due to take place in November at London’s Excel centre (which is just returning from service as an emergency Covid hospital). It will be the show’s 40th anniversary – if it takes place.
Some of the national tourist offices, which traditionally dominate WTM, are reportedly unwilling to commit to the show, partly because they fear a repeat of their experience with cancelled ITB travel event in Berlin in June; some apparently have yet to get their money back.
Some WTM exhibitors say Reed is also sending out confusing mixed messages about the idea of a virtual event – one week after the show itself. It’s also said to floating the idea of a one-day leadership summit on the opening day with 100 ministers of tourism. Needless to say, insiders are sceptical about the willingness of many government ministers to travel to London.
Whatever Reed Exhibitions says, its hugely-successful travel trade show – which is believed to have annual revenues of some £20m and perhaps £10m of gross profit – may simply have to be postponed, sooner rather than later.
In 1980, Reed’s against-the-odds launch of WTM against the long-established ITB saw it attract 350 exhibitors and 7,753 trade visitors. Last year, WTM had 13,250 exhibitors and 32,200 visitors. There’s a lot to fight for in a market where Reed has a portfolio of travel shows.
Reed may also be getting worried about its Mipcom TV-entertainment show, scheduled for October in Cannes. It is believed that ITV Studios, Fremantle, and the BBC (traditionally among the largest exhibitors) have decided not to attend this year but to return in 2021.
Further UK government advice on events and travel is expected to be issued tomorrow (Saturday 1 August) which may include some easing of recently-introduced quarantine requirements. But exhibition companies are not holding their breath.