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Analog und digital: The great opportunities offered by hybrid trade fairs

Apr 22, 2021

From the event hall into cyberspace and back: With a mix of physical, attended events and digital content on the internet, IAA MOBILITY 2021 is looking to an entirely new concept. Open, diverse and hybrid – the advantages of this format are self-evident.

With the spread of the coronavirus pandemic in March 2020, the events sector came instantly to a juddering halt. Moving trade fair stands and podium discussions onto the internet replaced planned attendance events, and as a result the sector experienced a strong push towards digitalization. Barely a year on, the hybrid trade fair – a semi-attendance, semi-online event – has become one of the key trends in the trade fair and events sector.

Advantages of digital content

Digital formats existed in the exhibitions sector even before coronavirus, but with the pandemic the trend gained a wholly new dynamism. It rapidly became clear that digital content is more than simply a corona-compliant substitute program, and that it can similarly be used to address a wide audience. That is true of live streams, viewed by people all around the world, and equally for on-demand content, which is being downloaded by “visitors” even long after the actual event. An added benefit is that, in principle, digital events can be implemented more cost-favorably, at least if technically elaborate stagings are dispensed with.

gamescom 2020: Fans worldwide saw the event. © gamescom

From live event to live stream

The extent of the potential from online content was demonstrated, amongst other things, by gamescom 2020. The event is one of the world’s biggest trade fairs for video games, and has previously attracted around 350,000 international visitors to the convention halls in Cologne. Held as a purely digital trade fair, its reach nevertheless grew several times over during the coronavirus year of 2020. For instance, the opening show alone was viewed by over two million people on the promoter’s internet site. In total, around 10 million people from 180 countries took part in the four-day online event, with hashtags on Twitter, public viewings on Discord and a cooperation with TikTok all further significantly increasing its reach. Just two hashtag challenges on TikTok generated around 300 million views. The opening show became the most-viewed digital event in the trade fair sector worldwide.


It’s a success that has also been mirrored at other events. For instance, the Consumer Electronic Show (CES) in Las Vegas in January 2021 was similarly staged as a purely digital event. This meant that it enabled around 1,900 exhibitors to give presentations on their digital stages and was able to bring the international tech community together. A key part of this was the 100-plus conference events and keynote addresses from prominent business leaders, sharing their thoughts on the future of the sector and attracting a lot of attention. The Hannover Messe 2021 has relied on a similar format. Originally still being planned as a hybrid trade fair, the world’s biggest industrial show ultimately had to be staged in a purely digital format in April, due to the persistence of the coronavirus pandemic. Around 1,500 speakers addressed the many online conferences, and in total around 90,000 attendees and roughly 5,500 exhibitors were involved in the five-day event, which generated 3.5 million page views on the promoter’s site. Another successful digital format event was the Frankfurt Book Fair 2020, which attracted over 200,000 visitors via the internet and used virtual networking events to promote even more and unexpected encounters. It is a clear sign that, even in these times, business, industry and consumers have a strong need for a common platform where they can meet and exchange ideas.

Hannover Messe also adjusted to the situation with digital content. © Deutsche Messe AG

Live remains live

But even if purely digital trade fairs can satisfy the desire for a common platform and sometimes ensure more viewers and greater reach via the internet, they cannot replace the personal exchanges experienced at physical, attended events. With a view to the post-coronavirus period, therefore, for many promoters a hybrid concept is the right middle way forward, to combine the advantages of both worlds. It’s an approach also confirmed by Gerald Böse, Koelnmesse CEO, reflecting on gamescom 2020: “We are really pleased with how well the digital concept was accepted. At the same time, we take the feedback from the community very seriously, that meeting up together in one place, gaming and sharing emotions continue to be the beating heart of gamescom.”


The fact that hybrid trade fairs are a key trend is also evidenced in a survey by the European Institute for the Conference Economy (Europäisches Institut für Tagungswirtschaft, EITW), according to which prior to coronavirus only around 27 percent of promoters considered the concept as showing the way forward – whereas after the pandemic broke out, that figure rose to fully 60 percent. And the Global Exhibition Barometer from January 2021 reflects the trend equally clearly. Around 50 percent of those surveyed think that a push for hybrid trade fairs is very likely, and something over 30 percent consider it a certainty. In an interview with the business magazine Handelsblatt, Jochen Köckler – chairman of the management board at Deutsche Messe AG – gave a clear assessment: “The trade fair of the future is hybrid”.

IAA MOBILITY invents itself new in 2021 – in many ways. © IAA

IAA Mobility is one event demonstrating how the hybrid concept can be implemented; it is upcoming in Munich in September 2021, with a mix of attended events and digital offerings. Tobias Gröber, Area Manager for Messe München, comments: “We are planning IAA Mobility as a hybrid event – partly digital, partly in physical form with suitable hygiene arrangements. Messe München has already gained a lot of useful experience of this. For our sector, as for the economy as a whole, it is a ray of hope: Events such as IAA Mobility can work, even if the circumstances are changing – you just need to reimagine them.” One challenge, which IAA Mobility is also engaging with at a thematic level, is that the mobility sector is currently in the middle of a far-reaching transformation. “The automotive sector is undergoing fundamental change. We view this change as an opportunity to rethink mobility. IAA Mobility aims to give impetus for a comprehensive concept of mobility that reflects the interests and concerns of the society,” says Jürgen Mindel, IAA Communications Business Manager.

The IAA 2021 will focus on innovative mobility in all its forms. Intelligent traffic solutions, visionary mindsets, automobiles and entire mobility chains. Everything that will shape the mobility of tomorrow and make it an experience. Be there!


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