Informa, the world’s biggest exhibitions group, has reported a loss of £1.1bn for 2020 as the coronavirus pandemic prevented gatherings around the world.
The company’s revenues plummeted by 42% to £1.7bn during the year, compared with £2.9bn in 2019, which was unaffected by the pandemic.
Informa and other events companies were forced into damage limitation mode during 2020 as travel restrictions kicked in, and the slow return to mass gatherings has cast a long shadow over the prospects for conferences and trade fairs dependent on networking and handshakes.
Stephen Carter, Informa’s chief executive, said 2021 would be “the year of transition” for the company as it seeks to recover. He added that China and the US, two-thirds of the company’s market, were leading the return to business as vaccination programmes take hold.
Informa’s academic publishing arm, Taylor & Francis, also supported the company, with revenues nearly unchanged despite the pandemic.
The coronavirus outbreak originated in China, but with stricter controls early on, it has reopened sooner. Informa said it had carried out 45 events with more than 1.2 million people in China since the start of the pandemic. However, it expects to do as many as 70 this year – matching pre-pandemic levels.
In the US, the first Informa event took place in February in Florida, which has had looser coronavirus restrictions than some other states. It has since run two large boat shows there.
Informa is planning to draw corporate crowds to Las Vegas from June for events such as the World of Concrete show, the International Surface Event and WasteExpo.
Prospects for the UK and Europe reopening remained more distant, but Carter said he hoped for “revitalisation and growth through 2022-2024”.
Although the UK government has said that it hopes to remove all internal movement restrictions by 21 June, the company has not set a date to restart major events amid considerable uncertainty tied to the vaccination programme and the potential for new Covid variants.
Informa, headquartered in London, has cut £600m of costs since the start of the pandemic. It has promised revenues of at least £1.7bn for 2021, but could earn more if reopening happens quicker, it said on Thursday.