2009's top innovations in the exhibition industry

7th January 2010

It has been a tough time for businesses within and outside the exhibitions industry, but that has not stopped companies from innovating and introducing new technology onto the market.

Inevitably, the internet and mobile phone use has played a major part in the new technology that has emerged. This is hardly surprising, considering that figures from Ofcom suggest that there are 77 million mobile subscriptions in the UK - which is more handsets than people.

In addition, eight million people in Britain accessed the internet on their mobile phone in the first three months of 2009, which represented a 42 per cent increase year-on-year, according to the watchdog.

Consequently, some of the major innovations in the exhibitions industry this year have incorporated mobile technology. Claire Farrugia, operations manager at Tarsus and Maya Mhatre, marketing manager at International Confex both drew attention to the use of mobile internet in registration and as a marketing tool.

"Registration systems are becoming more and more intelligent with the increase of internet usage," Ms Farrugia commented.

"We have introduced a system of self registration to ease congestion at registration desks. Visitors register online and are sent a confirmation with a bar code. All they have to do is to scan the bar code when they arrive at the show which automatically prints their badge," she added.

UBM Live's Bar 09 was the first UK exhibition to only use self-scan registration, with no badges sent out through the post in the traditional way.

"Over 9,000 badges were printed at the self-service terminal over the two days of the show but there was never a queue and conversion from pre-registration was higher year-on-year - resulting in very happy visitors, exhibitors and organisers," Kate Disley, group marketing manager at UBM Live, commented.

International Confex has also been trialling a system, known as QR codes, whereby mobile phone users can take a picture of a bar code which automatically launches their web browser and takes them to the show's mobile website, allowing them to research the exhibition while on the move.

"As this technology picks up, other uses within the industry will include exhibitors offering QR codes for visitors to download their web brochures and product information rather than having to pick up paper packs on-site," Ms Mhatre added.

She also highlighted registration systems as an area of innovation this year. International Confex has this year been using wall-mounted touch screens for visitors to type in their badge number and instantly receive their pass. This again, is beneficial for easing queues.

Visitor tracking is another area which has seen significant developments this year. Ms Mhatre pointed to the Fish Software Real Time Management System (RTMS) as one of the top innovations of 2009.

This technology uses radio frequency identification to measure the exact location of visitors at an event, every second, to within an accuracy of 12cm. Event organisers than have access to detailed information to provide a personalised experience for visitors.

The NEC was among the first exhibition centres to adopt RTMS in August this year.

"Maximising the commercial potential of every visitor has never been more important than it is in the current economic climate," said Kathryn James, managing director of The NEC at the time.

"The ultimate ambition therefore has to be the development of a holistic approach to event marketing strategies, ensuring that target visitors are aware of and motivated to come to events, primed and ready to purchase," she added.

In terms of exhibition furniture, Thorns Group identified a trend for retro styles with a contemporary feel this year.

Adam Aston, director of exhibitions at Camden Exhibition Services, a division of Thorns Group, said that clients were looking for "increasingly sophisticated" furniture.