Geplaatst op: 25-02-2024
Auteur: Dorothé Gerritsen
Breda University of Applied Sciences
Publicatie: UNCOVER07

The trade fair of the future

Virtual and physical interaction all year round

The trade fair of the future

Creating real-life experiences with a purpose is the domain of the event manager. Developers and organisers of B-to-C and B-to-B trade fairs also invest heavily in the 'total experience' and pull out all the stops to stimulate the visitor's senses. We are in the middle of the experience economy in both public and corporate events: visitors want meaningful experiences that are felt on an emotional level. All kinds of touchpoints are orchestrated to make the trade fair concept a unique and personalised experience. It is no longer just about the live encounters. Increasingly, crossovers between real-life and virtual experiences are being developed. Technological innovations combined with globalisation and the emergence of a 'hyper-connected world' have pushed developments even further in this direction. Event organisers are increasingly asking themselves what their core business is: is it creating experiences for visitors or generating meaning for people or society? This is also the case at Jaarbeurs Utrecht. This article examines the Bouwbeurs (International Building and Construction trade fair), Jaarbeurs Utrecht's own trade fair title, as a case study. This is done on the basis of the results of a fourth-year project group of BUas' Strategic Event Management minor in combination with the vision of Concept Developer Camille Janssen of Royal Jaarbeurs Utrecht.

Dorothé Gerritsen is a lecturer/researcher at the BUas Academy for Leisure & Events.

Royal Jaarbeurs Utrecht
Jaarbeurs is a building complex for large-scale events in the Dutch city of Utrecht. The buildings are located near Utrecht Central Station at the Jaarbeursplein. Jaarbeurs is available to visitors, organisers and exhibitors. Jaarbeurs organises and facilitates all kinds of small and big events, live and online. It is a place to attend conferences or events and to organise meetings, workshops, training courses, public and corporate events, trade fairs and exhibitions. Every year, Jaarbeurs attracts around 2.5 million visitors. The event venue in Utrecht is suitable for a wide range of activities. From large fairs, events and shows to small-scale meetings and business conferences.

Building and construction exhibition of the future

As part of the further development and future-proofing of successful trade fair titles within Jaarbeurs, BUas' student project group worked on the assignment: Develop the Future-Proof Bouwbeurs 2029. The construction industry is ambitious, innovative, sustainable and directional and, despite challenging times, very forward-looking. This makes this case a good example for trade fair concepts of the future.

It is no longer just about the live encounters.

After all, the construction industry needs a future-oriented and therefore sustainable event that does justice to its ambitions. The construction chain is changing rapidly with a growing focus on the environment and circularity, aided by positive developments in technology. These changes and developments demand that we connect with each other now and become even stronger as a construction sector. How is the construction trade fair developing towards 2029? Is the current concept sufficiently future-proof? What should and can be maintained and what should be changed? The students found out through desk and field research.

Vision of the trade fair of the future
The conclusions combined with the vision of Camille Janssen, Bouwbeurs' concept developer, offer a good perspective of the trade fair’s future. For the Bouwbeurs, Camille is responsible for construction, installation and for the manufacturing industry. He gets started on an event concept as early as two years before the event. What are the themes and topics in the industry? What will the market look like in two years' time? He is also heavily involved in creating valuable content. How do we make the right translation to the exhibition floor plan? Places where exhibitors are brought together. He then creates a logical layout taking into account the logical customer journey. The exhibitors' customer journey has changed in recent years.

These days, in addition to the physical exhibition at that one moment in time, exhibitors choose to be visible in the market throughout the year through digital exposure on Jaarbeurs’ Bouw & Installatie Hub, for example. That mix of different propositions changes edition after edition. In particular, Camille sees exhibitors being more conscious about the use of their marketing budgets. In addition, they want to collect visitor data before, during and after the trade fair. How many visitors visited the stand or attended the lecture? Moreover, the networking app developed by Jaarbeurs provides a lot of relevant data. Central themes of BouwBeurs 2029 are the digitisation and sustainability of the construction & engineering sector.

Embedded in education, inclusive and sustainable
The trade fair of the future is embedded in education at various levels, has a clear link to (local) business, and inclusion and sustainability are important. What is also important is that the trade fair is efficient in terms of time and resources and that this remains just so: more focus on content, contacts with the right networks, and perhaps multiple (smaller-scale) editions. Despite technological developments being and remaining important, interaction with content and social elements will continue to be important.

The construction industry is ambitious, innovative, sustainable and directional and despite challenging times, very forward-looking.

The techniques for following or organising an event online have developed at lightning speed and people now know how to attend these events online. In 2020, it became clear (because of Covid) that a physical event is not always the most effective way to reach targets and audiences. Digital and hybrid are becoming standard parts of the marketing mix, even after the corona era.

Small scale
Previously, the large scale and many people getting together all at once were the strengths of events. Now the focus is on intimacy and engagement. People are less willing to travel also because it is less sustainable; safety guidelines also push for smaller groups at a venue. Visitors who are physically present expect a personal experience where they can, for instance, compile their own programme. For now, setting up an event on a small scale is becoming the new way to make an impact.

Emerging technologies can be used to turn an event into a guest experience. Here, technical service staff are replaced by human-centric technology and the focus is on how people interact with the digital world. It is no longer one form of interaction but multiple forms that make an overall whole. Chat, voice and AR features, for example, are now being used to create experiences. A strategic vision of this is needed now that interactions have become more mobile and virtual.

In the world of events, this means, for example, that event visitors can sign up for the health screening area via an app and staff members can already have check-up interviews through voice-activated technology before visitors come to the event. Hyper-automation means automating as many past human actions as possible. With the current staff shortage problem, this too can help reduce the staffing problem. Processes should be automated to the extent possible.

These days, in addition to the physical trade fair at that one moment in time, exhibitors choose to be visible in the market throughout the year through digital exposure.

Real-life education projects
BUas' Strategic Event Management minor (year 4) and Events for Business specialisation (year 2) deal with issues surrounding events with a strategic objective. Young professionals studying these subjects are the future and have a refreshing perspective on today’s events, trade fairs and exhibitions. This project of the minor is a great example of what a cooperation between companies and education can deliver: sparring together about trends and developments and their consequences and meaning for the (near) future.


  • BUas project group (2023). De ideale Bouwbeurs voor 2029. Breda/Utrecht: project report.
  • Gerritsen en Van Olderen (2020). Events as a Strategic Marketing Tool. Coutinho: Hilversum.
  • Interviews Camille Janssen, Concept Developer Koninklijke Jaarbeurs Utrecht. 14 september 2022 en 11 mei 2023

Dit artikel is eerder verschenen in Uncover, een uitgave van het domein Leisure & Events van de Breda University of Applied Sciences. Nieuwsgierig naar de andere artikelen uit Uncover? Stuur dan een mailtje naar
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