Western Australian University Consultants (WAUC) is a volunteer organisation based in Perth, Australia that provides consulting services for charities and not-for-profit organisations. In 2019, WAUC completed an analysis of the market for science-related travelling exhibitions in North America, the United Kingdom, and Australia. A key aspect of this analysis was obtaining primary data from travelling exhibition producers, customers, and brokers to understand industry trends.
The global business of travelling exhibitions
The survey data was sourced from a diverse range of respondents who operate across the North American, United Kingdom, and Australian markets. Survey participants were involved in multiple activities related to travelling exhibitions, such as production and promotion, hiring travelling exhibitions for display in scientific institutions, and brokering and management services.
A dynamic market that demands variety
The travelling exhibition industry encompasses a wide range of topics, and this is reflected in the results of the survey. In response to a question regarding what content travelling exhibition customers seek to hire, several broad areas of interest such as science, technology, and nature were identified, but the most popular response was “variety”. 78% of survey respondents identified content as the most important factor when selecting a travelling exhibition to hire, while less than 10% of respondents considered price to be the most important. The vast majority of science centres represented in the survey hire travelling exhibitions for 3- or 6-month periods, demonstrating the dynamic nature of the industry and the consistent demand for new exhibitions. Travelling exhibition hire fees ranged from under $20,000 USD to more than $50,000 USD, which is likely indicative of the fact that science centres vary in terms of size, subject matter, and target demographic.
The enduring importance of trust in a changing industry
As the travelling exhibition industry is relatively small, trust plays a pivotal role in the hiring of exhibitions. 92% of travelling exhibition creators represented in the survey stated that they regularly engage repeat clients, while 82% of their customers said they were likely to repeatedly hire exhibitions from the same source. The importance of relationships within the travelling exhibition market is reinforced by the popularity of word of mouth marketing, industry conferences, and direct sales among respondents. Many partnerships between travelling exhibition creators and customers are facilitated by brokers, who provide essential services such as exhibition marketing, contract negotiation, transportation, and logistical support. Online marketplaces were also listed as a popular forum for the promotion and sourcing of travelling exhibitions. These marketplaces generally allow for more direct contact between travelling exhibition creators and science centres. They can act as a complementary resource and can reduce the overhead costs associated with engaging a broker.
Trust in a digitised world
The results of this survey provide valuable insight into the niche market of science-related travelling exhibitions. While survey participants differed in their geography and role in the travelling exhibition industry, there were two common themes that emerged in their responses. The first was the paramount importance of content when creating exhibitions and selecting exhibitions to hire, and the need for this content to be varied to provide novelty to science centres and their visitors. Secondly, the importance of trust and personal relationships was consistently identified by respondents involved in all aspects of the travelling exhibition industry. In an increasingly globalised and digitised world, it will be interesting to see how online marketplaces will replicate these existing relationships, while simultaneously aiming to provide an unprecedented level of convenience and variety to customers.