Why AI is not the answer to creating a frictionless exhibitor experience

24 May 2024

In the fast-evolving landscape of event technology, AI has emerged as the latest trend, promising enhanced efficiency and productivity. However, Adam Jones, CEO of FFAIR, argues that AI alone cannot resolve the deeper challenges faced by exhibitors. Through the innovative approach of the NHS Confederation, Jones illustrates the importance of addressing core issues with strategic tech solutions for a truly frictionless exhibitor experience.


Every few years, there is a dynamic shift in technology and its interaction with the events world. In 2023, AI became the ‘hot’ tech on the block and while not new, accessibility of AI through ChatGPT has demonstrated how AI can have a positive impact on event professionals' lives (just see how many times it's been covered in at an industry conference in the last 12 months)! 

A prominent discussion surrounding AI centres on its ability to enhance productivity and time management. For event professionals, the prospect of streamlining administrative tasks and saving valuable resources is the answer to many dreams. While AI is a powerful tool, it does not inherently address the core challenges or needs. It’s easy to get swept up in the allure of cutting-edge technology, but the implementation of any technology should focus on the 'why' and aim to meet a long-term need. Sometimes, these issues may not be as conspicuous or headline-grabbing, yet they can have a profound impact on the delivery of your event and the experience for your customers.

Having spent two decades in event ops tech, I believe one of the core challenges facing exhibitions lies within the exhibitor experience - an aspect of event operations that has been overlooked since the original online exhibitor manuals were launched over 20 years ago. 

Many exhibitions are still reliant on PDF exhibitor manuals that rely on exhibitors reading vast amounts of information and having to go to multiple sources to submit assessments and book furniture, graphics, wifi, catering - you name it. 

This creates a terrible pre-event experience for exhibitors and a real administrative headache for operations teams who often spend more time completing spreadsheets and chasing exhibitors than on event design. 

This challenge was directly addressed by Nick Westerman and the team at the NHS Confederation. As a membership organisation, the NHS Confederation unites, supports, and represents the entire healthcare system in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland through a comprehensive program of meetings, conferences, and events, including the annual NHS ConfedExpo in Manchester Central, which attracts over 5,400 delegates.

The NHS Confederation aimed to streamline the exhibitor experience by creating a 'one-stop-shop' exhibitor manual. Nick Westerman, Head of Strategic Partner Events at NHS Confederation, recounts their initial approach and subsequent realisation: "Previously, we relied on a general service contractor system, which, while functional, resulted in a varying experience for our exhibitors each year. As it wasn’t centralised, exhibitors had to navigate multiple suppliers. Most of the manual was also hosted on a document, rendering it outdated and inefficient. Our initial thought was to develop our own platform; however, research led us to discover an existing market solution that fulfilled our needs."

He highlights the importance of a frictionless experience: "Once exhibitors log into FFAIR, they have access to everything they need. From an event organiser's perspective, it greatly enhances customer service and reduces the need to direct exhibitors to various resources, making it far less labor-intensive."

This approach not only improved the pre-exhibition experience for exhibitors and the NHS Confederation team but also had a positive impact onsite. "We've seen a reduction in queries and a significant increase in sales. Our exhibitors have fewer questions, and we’ve almost eliminated negative feedback regarding the exhibition experience," Westerman adds.

Success lies not solely in the technology itself, but rather in the reasons for its implementation. By prioritising the underlying challenges over the specific solutions, the NHS Confederation has adopted event technology solutions that genuinely address the needs of both exhibitors and organisers. 


Read more about NHS Confederation's experience using FFAIR's online exhibitor manual