Exhibition companies and trade shows across all sectors have been among the hardest hit industries during the Covid-19 pandemic, so with a full ‘season’ of optical events completed, how does the land lie in our little corner of the events sphere?

Rather quiet, I would suggest.

Major events, like Opti in Munich, Milan’s Mido and Vision Expo East in New York were all significantly down on visitor numbers – broadly speaking, a third of their average attendance figures. Seemingly bucking this trend was 100% Optical, which saw a ‘record’ number of visitors.

Trips to Paris or Milan for trade shows used to be events for the whole practice team, but that hasn’t been the case for any of the events I’ve attended since Silmo in September, 2021. Instead, only the decision makers in practices have attended, which creates the paradox of happy exhibitors who still take plenty of orders, and disgruntled event organisers that use the volume of delegates to attract new exhibitors. Hopefully, this particular issue will resolve itself as the coronavirus picture continues to improve.

The harder job will be to convince the substantial number of brands that have avoided trade shows to come back to the exhibition halls. Several brands have used the opportunity presented by the pandemic to hold off-site events near the trade shows or in upmarket city hotels and event spaces. While this works well for the brand and reduces its overall costs, the customer experience becomes rather disjointed. I think it’s a little presumptuous to expect customers to traipse from the outskirts to city centres. If brands are going to do this, they should put their money where their mouths are and hold the events at a time when there isn’t a trade show in town to piggyback on.

Trade events can be great for education and incredibly useful for discovering new products, but there’s a risk they’ll disappear if there’s no give and take between the various stakeholders.