Association Spotlight: UFI Execs Share 11 Takeaways From Its Global CEO Summit and Global Exhibition Outlook Report

February 21, 2024
association spotlight

What’s the latest at UFI, the Global Association of the Exhibition Industry? On Feb. 14, we checked in with UFI CEO Kai Hattendorf and UFI North America Regional Director Martha Donato to get the inside scoop on UFI’s Global CEO Summit, held Jan. 31–Feb. 2 in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, and the UFI Global Barometer, a biannual report that was released in January (our take on the data and a link to the full report is here). 

Here are 11 takeaways from our conversation. Listen or watch the full interview here.


Recap of the UFI Global CEO Summit

  1. The vibe: “I think it's fair to say that there was a lot of energy in the room, and a lot of optimism as we head into 2024,” Hattendorf said.
  2. About the program: “Thanks to Herve Sedky, who was our chair for the event this year, and to our president, Geoff Dickinson, because they basically asked us to turn the program around and move the conversation from within our industry about trends to talking and learning from other industries about similar issues,” Hattendorf said.
  3. Big takeaway: “I think the big takeaway for everyone in the room was that while these sectors are different, they're also similar,” Hattendorf said. “There are more similarities than we were aware of, and we have more common challenges. So the feedback afterwards was that we left motivated to explore this further and seek more dialogue and more exchange with colleagues from other industries. Frankly, the out-of-industry speakers are rated higher than the industry speakers. So here's a challenge to all our peers from within the industry … We gotta up our game on stage at our industry events.”
  4. About the networking: “At the CEO summit, which, by the way, was my first time attending, I found it magical. The amount of time that's built into the program for networking is unlike most other industry meetings — or meetings in general,” Donato said.
Emerald President, CEO and Director Herve Sedky was the chair of the UFI Global CEO Summit 2024.

Deeper dive into UFI Global Exhibition Barometer

  1. Topline takeaway: “This year will be the best year ever for our industry, period,” Hattendorf said. “We're expecting a global average growth on revenue of 15%. Right now, the global trajectory is up and up.”
  2. Hiring: “We create jobs, and 52% of all industry businesses around the world are expanding their staff base, adding new positions and bringing in additional talent…not just filling positions that we had to refill after the pandemic, but adding new jobs for the industry — an amazing number,” Hattendorf said. “We are really right now, probably the biggest comeback story of all industry sectors.” 
  3. AI: “We started tracking that for the first time last summer. How many businesses consider this relevant? It was 80+%. By now, it's common sense. 90+% of all businesses around the world say generative AI is here to stay. They're expecting it to be adapted in our bloodstream and our workflows. More than one-third of businesses all around the world are already using generative AI, especially around marketing and sales, customer relations and research.” 
  4. Key takeaway for U.S. market: “One of the critical figures that jumped out to me on the U.S. report was that 57% of companies are planning to hire. That is going to create a really good opportunity for a lot of people to jump back in. A lot of people left [during the pandemic] for other opportunities because we were closed down. They'll be able to come back in,” Donato said.
  5. On recruiting talent: “Ultimately, all this work always has to be national, regional or local level,” Hattendorf said. “What we can do, as UFI, and what we have done for the last two years is work on a new narrative, to turn this perceived weakness that you fall into this industry into the superpower that it really is. We built a narrative together with major organizers and the next generation leaders that we shared with the industry. That's our global share of the work, but the activation indeed has to happen on the local level.”
  6. Attracting college students in the U.S.: “I do know that there are some show organizers who are actively involved in setting up programs at their local universities, trying to attract that college level student who's not quite sure what he or she wants to do when they graduate. They're going in and providing guest lecturing services and things of that nature so that people will realize this is an industry. I think that the grassroots movement that's happening all across the country is really important. I think we'll see that increase,” Donato said. 
  7. Talent development: “The Next Generation Leader program is an important way to bring visibility to the [industry]. You have to be less than 10 years in the industry to be eligible for the UFI program. We're accepting nominations now, so please spread the word if there's somebody in your organization that you think would benefit from the visibility and the participation with this program. I think that's a model to be copied around the world,” Donato said. Applications are due April 7. As of Feb. 19, 92 people have applied for grants. Apply here
Workforce development: 52% of all exhibition companies around the world are planning to add additional staff in the next six months, according to the latest UFI Global Exhibition Industry Barometer.

What’s next

  • The UFI Asia-Pacific Conference 2024 will be held March 7–8 in Macau, China. Next month, we will chat with UFI Regional Director Mark Cochrane to get a recap on the event and what’s happening in exhibitions in the region.
  • The UFI Middle East & Africa (MEA) Conference 2024 will be hosted by the Rwanda Convention Bureau and held April 15-17 at the Kigali Convention Centre in Kigali, Rwanda.
  • UFI European Conference 2024 will be held June 11-13 in Zurich, Switzerland. Connected to the main event, Zurich will also host the 2nd edition of the Event Directors Summit – a “by invitation only event” for 50 exhibition and portfolio directors, launched at the 2023 European Conference. “We're going to throw in a trip to Art Basel for those who are there to give people an opportunity to see this really world-class art show,” Hattendorf said.
  • Legislative Action Day will be held on May 30 in Washington, DC. UFI supports the Exhibitions & Conferences Alliance, which is producing the day of advocacy on Capitol Hill. 
  • The UFI Americas Conference 2024 will be held Sept. 10-12, 2024 in Monterrey, Mexico. Formerly known as the UFI LATAM Conference, this year’s conference is set to unite the newly formed North America Chapter with the Central and South America Chapter. “We've been working very closely on getting that together and are very proud to say that Fernando Fisher, president of RX North America, will be our chair for that meeting,” Donato said.
  • UFI Global Barometer will be updated mid-year. 
Macau, China will host the UFI Asia-Pacific Conference 2024 from March 7 to 8.


Partner Voices
For the past 18 years, BlueHive Exhibits has been a steadfast partner for both national and international companies, catering to their trade show and event needs.