15 July 2022


“Exhibitions are a strategic asset for the development of economies and societies…”

In an insightful conversation with Yogesh Mudras, Managing Director, Informa Markets in India, Kai Hattendorf, CEO and MD, UFI, underlines the role and future of the vibrant world of trade expos

YM: Exhibitions are known to be a catalyst for the economy. How are developed countries leveraging the power of exhibitions?

KH: As you would well know, traditionally, exhibitions and business events were seen as the marketplaces for all the industries we serve. Over the course of time, it is seen as playing a critical role in driving development, innovations, and progress.

Interestingly, the pandemic has shaped this reputation for the industry. That’s when everyone suddenly realised that in its absence. So, exhibitions were not just marketplaces and these meeting places; rather it was a critical industry and a systemically important player.

During this entire phase, we all have been talking to policymakers and decision-makers in the respective governments about the enhanced need to provide face-to-face opportunities. They have now really begun to heed us -- the impact we have as an industry is now understood.

We are thus clearly seen as more than a sub-set of tourism, of bringing business travellers into a destination for a number of days to spend money and produce a regional economic impact. Much more than pre-pandemic, we are increasingly seen as a strategic asset for governments, leaders, and industries to drive their agendas and to drive their industries and initiatives forward. The pandemic has been a big game-changer, but it's given us a once-in-a-generation opportunity to help reshape how we are seen as an industry.

YM: Are there certain industry sectors that have been more impacted through exhibitions and seen a change in fortune?

KH: It is very difficult to pick one specific industry because every industry has a different culture, a different style, and a different approach to doing things. I think what is most common is the need to meet, showcase innovation and have this exchange on an industry-wide level.

But yes, I can talk about machinery shows, for instance. I've heard a lot of participants, for instance, going back to a show for the first time after the pandemic and telling us that there's so much novelty in the industry and that they have had 2-3 cycles of product innovation, all of which they have to showcase together now as they were missing their annual touchpoint. So, the leap in innovation and technology is much larger than it would normally be between one show and another.

Naturally, there's a lot to catch up on and a lot of potential to leverage this. Also, if you look more on the service sector side, if you were to consider the entertainment space and gaming, a lot of development has happened over the pandemic where people were able to stay connected digitally throughout the pandemic. At the same time, they are coming back together again individually and driving innovation in the post-pandemic phase.

YM: As a developing country, how is India seen globally as an emerging market for exhibitions? What are the opportunities and challenges you foresee for it?

KH: You know, India is and has been for a while, a fast-growing market in the Asia Pacific region, standing somewhat in the shadow of that enormous growth we've seen across China. So, it's worth looking at what has been driving that growth in China and one factor would be the amount of venue space available.

We now see that India has the potential to grow impressively fast. Many of the international organisers, as you know, are just itching to take more business to India. What was been holding them back, was a lack of infrastructure, a lack of venue space of international quality. I remember taking a delegation of UFI leaders to India in 2017 and we were told about the development plans and the new venues that were being built. And I think the pieces are coming together as there is more space of high quality, quality of infrastructure with the international airports and the connectivity.

Coming back after the pandemic, you are well poised for strong growth. There's a huge domestic market in India of course, but the international influx into the market will provide a major boost for growth. So, we are very bullish about the potential of India as the fastest-growing exhibition market across Asia for the years to come. There is always potential to handle the infrastructural issue that everyone has right now, and it can rise up to provide.

I do believe the country can work on the staffing side to build and operate an impressive marketplace. I believe, though, that the staffing issue that we're facing right now is a temporary one. It should have enough capacity to serve everyone again at the full scale of services that we used to produce before the pandemic, within the next 6 to 12 months globally.

YM: Can you mention some of the future trends for the exhibitions industry globally that is going to have a deep impact in the post-vaccination phase?

KH: Yes, let me go on the short-term and on the mid-term aspect of this. Short term, the biggest challenge we have is staffing and the uncertainty around what we will face when it comes to the continuity of the pandemic. We are not done with the pandemic, but we have learned to live with it, and we've developed global good practice standards together with the international organizers.

There are the All-secure guidelines for instance, which Informa is an intrinsic part of, where we can connect business people to do business in a healthy and safe manner. Staffing is and remains our major issue like so many other industries around us and we need to bring back people to help us operate.

At the same time, there are two immense opportunities right now, and one is this in a huge pent-up demand for people to meet again that has been responsible for the large number of people to return much faster to the shows than we thought a year back. To be honest, we are globally expecting as an industry to be at around 70 to 72% of the revenue we had in 2019 already this year and 2019 was a record year around the world for our industry. We have scheduled around the world despite the ongoing challenges to be back where we were in 2019 already by 2024.

Midterm, probably, the biggest challenge we are facing and that is directly connected with our license to operate is interestingly, the climate issue. The climate has been changing around the planet -- you've had record heat waves across India, Europe, North America. All of this is fueling the actions of governments and industries to tackle that. So, if we don't find an answer as an industry to reduce carbon emissions, our customers will no longer come to us.

Last year, we collaborated with the wider business events industry to define the net-zero Carbon events initiative and to work with the United Nations to present that at COP and the Global Climate Summit and Glasgow.

So, we need to operate in a certain way so that we can reach our climate targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions for our customers, who are demanding that. So essentially, it's the businesses we serve and the people who attend our shows that demand that change.

Based on the sustainability and the climate efforts, for the next three years, getting the right answers for the climate challenge is one of the greatest tasks we have as an industry. I can only invite each and every player, whether you're an organizer, supplier or related to our industry to look at joining the net zero carbon events in the state. It's a pitch to secure the future of our industry.

YM: What are some of the steps you would recommend for exhibitions to take to enhance digital innovation and sustainability while ensuring good ROI?

KH: I believe digital is a fantastic opportunity for our industry to go beyond what we have done before the pandemic and attain a lot of that growth in the next 10 years.

Added revenue or value will not come from selling more space. It will come from developing and rolling out more digital services and products. This will build and connect buyers and sellers in the most relevant way. In the last 100-plus years, we have leveraged the potential of physical shows and it continues to work. Supplemented with that, we can also serve our customers online all year round. We will then have readied the industries and communities for the big day in the year to come to showcase and gain from the combined strength of that online-physical model, that we have tried and tested during the pandemic business relationship management.

We have a great growth opportunity if we can especially provide the small and medium enterprises with digital solutions that help them to stay connected all year round in between the shows. We will have built that trust. So, for me, digital is not about making an event hybrid or putting up a silo virtual exhibition. It's always been about people believing in its value year long. After all, the face-to-face experience can't be put on a screen. But there are a lot of ways we can support connecting supply and demand online. We can support the industry we serve by building or joining their communities by sharing content all year round by evolving into what some call a pre-show and post-show environment. I increasingly call it an omnichannel environment where we can serve the industries and sectors and customers better all year round. Our industry can then easily -- mark my words -- double in size in the years to come.

YM: How do you see GED helping the cause of advocacy for our industry and what goals remains to be achieved?

KH: Global Exhibitions Day has grown so much since we launched it in 2016 and is now a collaboration of more than 40 industry associations around the world. It is the biggest awareness campaign we have in the event business events industry (not just in exhibitions) -- our opportunity to stand up and be counted once a year.

What it has also given us is structures, networks, and collaborations that we can use for a plethora of advocacy issues.

We had first started this GED conversation to change the understanding of policymakers that we are not a sub-segment of tourism. Rather, we are a strategic asset for the development of economies and societies. We continue to get this message across to local, regional, and national governments based on the networks we've built around Global Exhibitions Day.

When we continue this advocacy work, when we continue to explain why we are the best industry to work in, we get to find our future colleagues. When we talk to climate activists, we help them to understand how we actually produce greenhouse gas footprint at the event. Since we focus everyone on one place rather than have decentralized travel, we save a lot of carbon emissions.

All this has immense benefits and I want to applaud everyone in India for coming out in full force in support of the day.

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