The International Association of Fairs and Expositions
Bringing communities together
Business View Magazine profiles The International Association of Fairs and Expositions (IAFE) for our focus on Exposition and Event Centers
The International Association of Fairs and Expositions (IAFE) is a voluntary membership trade association, providing information, education, and advocacy for the agricultural shows and fairs throughout the world. Agricultural fairs have been a part of fabric of life in most parts of the world for centuries, and the model most prevalent today grew from the agricultural societies of Europe. In the United States, the wide-ranging establishment of the county and state fair model can be traced back to 1811 and Elkanah Watson’s creation of the Berkshire Agricultural Society in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. The historic growth and increasing professionalism attached to fairs in the late 1800s led to the formation of the IAFE in 1891 to act as a clearing house for the discussion of common standards, rules of conduct and a system of inter-fair relationships ¹
Based in Springfield., Missouri since 1980 the IAFE’s staff of ten works with hundreds of engaged individuals from throughout the membership serving on various committees – and guided by a 19-member board of directors – to implement the mission of the Association: To lead in representing and facilitating the evolving interest of agricultural fairs, exhibitions, and show associations.
Today, the IAFE has about 1,000 members classified as agricultural fairs from the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and Australia. An additional 800 members are the businesses and service providers with the items that fairs need today in order to operate – everything from entertainment, ribbons and trophies to insurance and safety services, as well as production equipment and technology services.
The membership of the fairs in the IAFE represents the breadth and scope of the industry. About 42% of the members are very small events operated by a dedicated board of directors and volunteers. These county fairs and shows are the heartbeat of their community. Events such as this are typically lasting 1 to 5 days and have less than 25,000 guests and participants. The next tier of fairs – about 40% of the membership – are fairs with 25,000 to 100,000 attendance and some of these fairs may have a small part-time or full-time staff to support the work done by volunteers and board members. From there, fairs range in size all the way up to 2 million plus and represent some of the largest events of any type held in the world. The fair may be state or provincial in scope such as a state fair or may have national – even international – participation such as the Calgary Stampede (Alberta, Canada), the Sydney Royal Easter Show (Sydney, Australia), the Canadian National Exhibition (Toronto, Canada), and the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo, among others. The majority of members, however, are county and local fairs and shows.
Thus, the work of the IAFE is very diverse. To meet the needs of all members requires scalability in educational programming in addition to meeting niche market needs. To meet member needs and to drive industry innovation, the professional staff of the IAFE works with a robust committee structure. There are 13 committees focusing on educational programming activities. Another eight committees are focused on administrative functions and specific activity programming. Altogether, in 2022 there are nearly 800 individuals serving on these committees to ensure the education, information and networking opportunities provided through the Association will meet the needs of the members.
And what are those needs today? Again, the scope is as diverse as the membership, but top priorities for 2022 – 2024 include: technology (how to use it, finding affordable platforms, going cashless), safety and security (the current turmoil and unrest within many communities following the pandemic has impacted guest behavior at public events), marketing (understanding how to reach audiences when communication channels are fractured and segmented), and the role of the fair in bridging the information (and perception) divide between the people who are producing food and fiber and today’s consumer.
The IAFE addresses these needs through multiple channels. Regular communication is key, and thus three times per week a short, e-mail called the News Brief is sent to all members. This typically contains links to three or four news items of interests about members, as well as action links to upcoming IAFE events or learning sessions. The Fairs & Expos magazine produced six times per year is mailed to member organizations and all individuals associated with those members have 24/7 access to current and past online versions of the magazine. Each issue of the F&E contains educational and informational articles, most written by members. Regular e-mail and mailed correspondence, social media platforms Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, and a podcast are also used to round out communication with members.
The educational programming for the members is also delivered in multiple channels. These include in-person events (the Annual Convention and Trade Show, Management Conference and regional conferences and workshops), webinars – dubbed “CyberSeminars,” engaging discussions using Zoom on a variety of timely topics (called “Let’s Talk” sessions) and the production of resources such as toolkits on specific topics (Avian Influenza, Succession Planning, Communication in Time of Covid, etc.) and a shared library of documents on best practices or examples of innovative programming submitted by members. Using multiple platforms for engaging members virtually through the CyberSeminars, Let’s Talk, and committee meetings, resulted in over 6,000 individuals participating throughout 2021.
What does the future hold for the agricultural fairs and shows that are the IAFE members? Although coming off of the pandemic is fraught with challenges (supply chain, inflation, staffing shortages), there has been – thus far – no decrease in the enthusiasm of guests to return to their fair. About 95 % of all IAFE member fairs were able to produce a full event in 2021 and when weather cooperated (always the nemesis none can control), crowds exceeded expectations or broke attendance records. On-grounds spending records were shattered. Through the first few months of 2022, with the season of fairs held primarily in Florida, Texas and other southern locales, the trend is repeating itself.
At the heart of the matter is that each individual fair or show is unique. No two are alike. Each represents their own community, whether that be a village, a county, a region, or a state or province. These fairs and shows will showcase the very best of their community: agriculture, businesses, entertainment, community groups and non-profits, and bring the entire community together in an annual celebration.
Additionally, the majority of fairgrounds and show facilities across the globe are more than just the site of the annual fair. The fair organization is likely a proprietor with a separate business, renting out facilities for other events and activities for a vital revenue stream to support the ongoing maintenance and capital improvements needed. Many fairgrounds and showgrounds are the ultimate resource for community emergencies: shelters for people and animals from fire, tornadoes, floods, extreme heat, or cold conditions. The complimentary (or low-cost) use of the fairgrounds for charitable purposes – high school graduation ceremonies, charity walks and runs, food bank distribution centers, etc. – is part of the culture of fairs and shows to be part of and to serve the community.
To sum it up, the agricultural fairs and shows are at the very heart of the communities they serve. Providing them the education, information, advocacy, and networking as the IAFE’s mission sets the stage for these vital organizations to remain relevant and to thrive well into the future. We constantly remind ourselves and our members that through the opportunities fairs provide for youth leadership development, for creating an event that brings the community together like no other, that FAIRS CHANGE LIVES.
¹The Agricultural Fair, Wayne Caldwell Neely, AMS Press Inc, NY
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AT A GLANCE
The International Association of Fairs and Expositions (IAFE)
What: Voluntary membership trade association for agricultural shows & fairs
Where: Based in Springfield, Missouri