Trade fair 2.0: What countries are doing to restart trade exhibitions

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June 14, 2020 12:01 AM

Countries across the world are working on restarting trade exhibitions with new safety protocols, including contactless entry and cashless transactions.

Trade shows, especially, are critical in rebuilding economy, as these offer a chance to companies to sell and source, a vital component of the business calendar and a key factor in building a network.

Managing the health crisis and reviving the economy are the two biggest priorities for governments around the world today. Trade shows, especially, are critical in rebuilding economy, as these offer a chance to companies to sell and source, a vital component of the business calendar and a key factor in building a network.

In its 2019 exhibition report, France-based organisation UFI The Global Association for the Exhibition Industry had estimated that approximately 32,000 exhibitions happen every year, featuring 4.5 million exhibiting companies that attract over 303 million visitors. Exhibitors and visitors combined spend around $137 billion every year on exhibitions, making exhibitions a significant industry. Globally, the tourism segment MICE (meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions) was projected to reach $1,439.3 billion in 2025, registering a CAGR of 7.6% from 2018 to 2025, as per Allied Market Research.

The Indian Exhibition Industry Association (IEIA) estimates the market size of the exhibition industry at `23,800 crore. More than 550 such events are conducted annually in the organised sector. However, the outbreak of the pandemic has resulted in an estimated loss of Rs 3,570 crore in Q1 2020 for the sector, which may further escalate if the crisis continues.

Under strict health screening conditions, China’s Hunan Province in May held its first major Hunan Auto Show, attracting 100 auto brands, nearly 600 vehicles and 60,000 sq m of stand booths with over 62,000 visitors in six days. Germany has now become the second country in the world to take a big step forward towards reopening the trade fair business. AUMA—Association of the German Trade Fair Industry has presented the country’s policymakers with proposals for regulations. The German government has exempted exhibitions from the rules barring mass gatherings, opening the door to business-to-business events.

Moreover, the #safebusiness project, launched by IEG (Italian Exhibition Group), has devised a plan to work with outfitting and catering companies, technicians and international operators and focus on every phase in the trade show and conference experience. Meanwhile, UFI has released guidance on reopening trade shows and B2B events post Covid-19. The earliest shows likely to take place are the Dallas Total Home & Gift Market, starting August 19 (rescheduled from June), and the Intertextile Shanghai Home Textiles fair, starting August 24.

As India deliberates on the post-Covid era, the exhibition industry is geared up to lead by example. In a virtual event organised by the trade body Indian Exhibition Industry Association (IEIA) last month with Nitin Gadkari, minister of MSME and road transport & highways, the members of the trade association suggested to develop SOPs/safety guidelines such as distance protocols between visitors, mandatory masks, sanitisation, etc, for exhibitions and trade shows to resume in India.

Reopening trade shows with new safety protocols in a ‘controlled environment’ will make the entire process safe for a visitor, allowing contactless entry, cashless transactions and contactless face-to-face meetings. The presentation submitted to the ministry contains the scale and impact of the Indian exhibition industry and how it is geared up for gradually opening again under well-thought-out safety guidelines.

While exhibitions are known to generate business and enable knowledge and technology exchange within individual economic sectors, they also play a significant role in supporting trade and employment opportunities for many allied sectors such as service providers, hospitality sector (including restaurants, bars, hotels), transport (especially local cabs and taxis in case of tier I cities in India) and the incredibly hard-hit aviation sector, as business travel gets activated together with MICE tourism. “Restarting exhibitions with health and safety guidelines is key to restarting the economy,” says Raj Manek, managing director, Messe Frankfurt Trade Fairs India, a subsidiary of Messe Frankfurt Exhibition GmbH, one of the largest event organisers in the world.

These allied industries are the backbone of the exhibition industry, but lack of business is putting many of these at immediate risk. “Trading and networking platforms under safe and controlled business environment are critical for every business sector… exhibitions play a crucial role in reconnecting and rebuilding business communities and vital supply chains, which, in turn, will have a domino effect across multiple allied sectors by creating employment and opening up the service industry sector,” shares Manek. Messe Frankfurt is gearing up for the 2020 Frankfurt Book Fair in October and is working in close cooperation with the Health Department of the city of Frankfurt to intensify safety and hygiene measures.

Enhanced technology integration in everyday exhibition processes like online registrations, digital on-site registration process, cashless transactions will be the new normal for the industry in India. “We are exploring a combination of live virtual events and webinars to create a balance between the digital platform and face-to-face interactions, which will always hold value,” says Manek. Exhibition apps will help set up and schedule visits and meetings in advance, and digital scanning and exchange of data will replace visiting cards, brochures, catalogues and reference material at exhibitions.

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