How the Exhibiting Dollar is Spent

How the Exhibiting Dollar is Spent

Confronted with post-pandemic budgets and rising inflation, exhibit managers need to know exactly where their money is likely to go in the foreseeable future. To help you compare your allocations to industry averages, EXHIBITOR surveyed more than 300 companies to see how the exhibit dollar is currently being spent. By Travis Stanton

Graphic Design and Production

6% Graphic design and production took up 9 percent in 2008 and is at 6 percent today. That drop suggests exhibitors may be relying more on digital graphics than traditional printed mediums such as Sintra and tension fabrics.


9% Shipping has fluctuated from a high of 13 percent in 1998 to a low of 8 percent in 2021. Given the nearly ubiquitous two-year ban on mass gatherings, it’s not surprising to see this line item hit a record low last year. As live events continue to resume, it’s safe to assume this number will maintain its climb.

Booth Space

32% In 1988, booth space consumed 24 percent of the typical trade show budget. Over the decades, however, that figure has risen steadily, comprising as much as 35 percent. This line item currently accounts for just under one-third of respondents’ total budgets.

Virtual Exhibits and Events

3% A catchall for digital conferences and virtual exhibits, this line item represents a mere 3 percent of total budgets. But if the hybridization of events becomes a long-term trend, virtual investitures could begin commanding a larger share.

Show Services

11% Show services, the category for everything from internet access to booth cleaning, consumed 22 percent of the average budget in 1988. Partly as a result of exhibitors skipping these services and exercising fiscal discipline, this item has exceeded no more than 14 percent of budgets since 1998.

Other Expenses

7% The amorphous “other” category (which includes line items such as social media and content creation) has remained a small part of trade show budgets throughout the years, bottoming out at just 1 percent in 2008 (possibly reflecting the universal belt-tightening that occurred during the Great Recession) before inching back upward to its current level of 7 percent.

Marketing Promotions

5% The portion of exhibit-marketing budgets spent on promotions has increased from 2 percent in 1988 to 6 percent, where it plateaued for the past several years before dipping slightly to 5 percent today.

Travel and Lodging

13% Currently the third-largest component of a trade show budget, travel and lodging expenses have grown from a miniscule 2 percent of the average budget in 1988 to 13 percent today, a striking six-fold surge. But as the travel and lodging industries continue to rebound from COVID-19, prices are expected to rise – and presumably consume a slightly larger share moving forward.

Exhibit Design and Construction

14% Exhibit design and construction’s share of the routine budget has shrunk dramatically since 1998, when it comprised roughly 23 percent. That decline is due, at least in part, to affordable exhibit systems and portable displays entering the mainstream.