December 6, 2023
Looking into the future of trade shows

Looking into the future of trade shows

Heather Macrae has been at the helm of Landscape Ontario Congress trade show and conference since 2013, when she joined the organization as director of events and trade shows. She has since seen the industry strengthen and Congress grow along with it — as new products, ideas and members continue to find a home at Congress each January. MacRae steered the show through the challenges of COVID-19, and saw the highly anticipated return of the in-person trade show in 2023, which celebrated Congress’s 50th anniversary. The show broke all attendance records and was a joyful reunion for attendees and exhibitors alike. Her team also introduced the interactive feature areas on the show floor that make Congress the vibrant, can’t-miss experience for landscape and horticulture professionals it is today.

MacRae is involved with the Canadian Association of Exposition Management (CAEM) and sits on the Nursery and Landscape Association Executives of North America (NLAE) board of directors — so, it’s safe to say she has an inside scoop on the state of the trade show industry. She shared her unique insights with Landscape Trades.

What trends are you seeing going into 2024?
Trade shows are coming out much stronger after COVID-19 than consumer shows are. What people learned is that face-to-face business is really important to enhance and grow their businesses. The networking piece became more relevant than probably it ever had, because they couldn’t do it for a few years, so they saw that gap.

What are the big trends you’re seeing at Congress this year?
I think the big trend across our show is electric equipment. We’ve been waiting for this for a long time, and now a lot of the tools and equipment that companies are offering actually have the battery life for equipment to operate for a full day of work. That’s the big excitement.

How is Congress an outlier? Why is it special compared to other big shows?
Congress really has a sense of community — people coming together and celebrating their year and celebrating what’s to come. A lot of the people who attend Congress, or eventually have booths, or have businesses, or are members of Landscape Ontario, are the students who build the gardens at the show. They enter at that level, doing their college education, and then they stick with the community all the way through. Quite often, we’ll have members who can remember building a garden when they went to school, and now they’re celebrating 25 years in business. So it really is that community. That’s the really big difference, and that’s why out of all the industry trade shows in Canada, Congress is the most successful.

What do you see in the future for Congress?
Our big dream for Congress is to continue to grow the exhibitor floor size. The Toronto Congress Centre has a second building — we’re in the first building, and there’s a building that’s behind us — and someday, we’d like to take over that building as well.

What do you see in the future of trade shows in general?
I think trade shows are becoming more and more relevant. We spend a lot of time behind our screens, and there’s more and more people saying, “I’d like to be face- to-face and not behind my screen all the time.” There was a fear that trade shows would disappear, and I actually think our next generation is starting to realize there’s a value in being in the same space with people. Trade shows will come out strong and stronger as the years go on.

What makes Congress so relevant in an increasingly online world?
Oh, well, that was big thanks to COVID-19! We learned about online software that we can use to showcase our exhibitors through our floor plan all year long. During COVID-19, we did a virtual trade show and what we learned from that and what we educated our exhibitors on is you can upload video, you can upload images. Don’t just buy the booth and be at the show — keep that alive all year. The online marketplace that our floor plan has created has really brought that digital element forward.

How can attendees make the most out of their Congress experience?
Look through our website, look at all the schedules and plan in advance as to where you want to spend your time. When you arrive at Congress, don’t expect that you’ll get through every booth because the show is so big. Come to the show understanding what market you’re really looking at — is it equipment, is it plant material? Highlight what those categories are that you’re really trying to look through, and then anything else that you see is a bonus. There are lots of bright and shiny objects there to look at.


Don’t miss Landscape Ontario Congress, Jan. 9-11 at the Toronto Congress Centre. Register online at