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‘Face-to-face encounters for business networking irreplaceable’

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‘Face-to-face encounters for business networking irreplaceable’
Raj Manek.

 Trade shows and exhibitions remain critical for businesses and potential clients and partners, especially in times when doors seem to be shutting for new and small enterprises. According to an industry expert from a German-based trade fair and event organiser, on-ground exhibitions and expositions remain irreplaceable for business networking and must be pulled off with enough care and digital interventions.

Raj Manek, Executive Director and Board Member Messe Frankfurt Asia Holding Ltd, in conversation with IANSlife. Excerpts:

Q: Exhibitions are not just business events, but also boost tourism and to some extent, cultural exchange. Your views.

A: Exhibitions in general are important economic, social and political catalysts that can open doors for domestic and international trade, tourism, job creation, and cultural exchanges. However, Exhibition Business travel is changing the dynamics for the tourism industry and is an important tool that can draw in tourist visitors for its host cities; making way for inter-cultural exchanges.

Our headquarters in Frankfurt is one of the best examples for this, which has an entire city running on the exhibition model – and clearly demonstrates the potential of our trade shows in attracting high international component of business travelers that boost the region’s travel and tourism industry.

Q: Could you comment on the financial hit the exhibition industry has taken due to COVID?

A: If you see the latest figures from UFI, globally, there are approximately 32,000 exhibitions each year, bringing in 4.5 million exhibiting companies that potentially attract over 303 million visitors. Exhibitors and visitors combined spend around EUR 116 billion (USD137 billion US) every year on exhibitions. These numbers are astounding and make exhibitions a significant global industry.

Equally significant is the impact in India where the size of exhibition industry is Rs 23,800 crore. More than 550 events are conducted annually in the organised sector. Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, India’s exhibition sector has taken a hit and the impact has been unprecedented with multiple global and national events being postponed or cancelled in the country. The resultant loss as indicated by IEIA is around Rs 3,570 crore for the entire sector which we feel may further escalate if the crisis lingers on.

Q: Almost all industries look to B2B exhibitions for their products and services; and the impact of restarting exhibitions and expos will be cross-industry. Do you agree?

A: To quantify the economic significance or impact of exhibitions is challenging – because besides supporting trade and transactions, or enabling knowledge and technology exchange within individual economic sectors, exhibitions play a significant role in supporting trade and employment opportunities for many allied sectors such as service providers, hospitality sector including restaurants, bars hotels, public transport sector including local cabs and taxis in the case of Tier-I cities in India, and the incredibly hard hit aviation sector as business travel gets activated together with MICE tourism.

The backbone of the exhibition industry are these allied industries and the lack of business is putting many of these at immediate risk. The current scenario underlines the critical importance that exhibitions can play in generating the necessary stimulus for the economy which is the primary reason why nations such as Germany, China and Korea have classified exhibitions as eOrganised Gatherings’ rather than eMass Gatherings’, and permitted the opening of trade exhibitions under strict safety guidelines.

There is no doubt that exhibitions will be mission-critical in rebuilding the economy even in India. It will not only generate incredible opportunities for the business community to promote their products and services, but will generate a domino effect across multiple sectors thereby re-building supply chains, creating employment, and opening up the service industry sector which will in turn facilitate domestic and international business visitations.

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Q: You have mentioned how digital interventions can help us minimise physical contact. Can you take us through how a post-COVID exhibition would look like online and on-ground, with all safety protocols in place?

A: Digital intervention is not new to the events and exhibitions Industry but what we will see next will be an enhanced technology integration in everyday exhibition processes. For on-ground exhibitions, we see a strong possibility in the growth of pre-show registrations than on-site registrations at exhibitions going forward. Buyers and traders want to confirm, plan and fix their meetings in advance. Therefore, tools to maximise online registrations and buyer-seller meetings will be strongly adopted. Digital self-registration processes and cashless transactions will be the new normal for the Exhibition Industry.

Exhibition apps that will help set-up and schedule visits and meetings in advance, Digital scanning and exchange of data which can replace visiting cards, brochures, catalogues, reference material at exhibitions will become more prominent over time. As organisers, we look at our role as creating an ambience that can provide the “personal touch” of professional interaction without the need for “physical contact”.

The local government’s track and trace app will be made mandatory for all people at the venue, meticulous temperature checks will screen all participants entering the hall on set up as well as show days. Visitors will be required to wear masks and other personal protective equipment (PPE) in line with local health guidelines. Isolation chambers for suspected visitors and tie ups with nearby hospitals for thermal check-up and immediate medical assistance are being planned to ensure prompt response to any plausible risks.

As a group that has been into the trade fair business since centuries, we strongly believe that business relations and personal encounters at exhibitions will be irreplaceable but offering a hybrid platform will become a standard feature at our physical events, so that we continue to enable our customers to expand reach and transform virtual connections into face-to-face interactions. So in terms of online or virtual exhibitions – while we are actively looking at entering the digital space, we don’t see it as a replacement to our traditional business, rather an enhancement that can complement our existing trade shows, and ensure business continuity in the economic sectors we are present in.

Q: What is the current status of Messe Frankfurt across the globe – where have operations have restarted? What’s in the pipeline? Where do exhibitions seem most likely to take place first?

A: This July 2020, Messe Frankfurt celebrated its 780th birthday by getting straight back to business. The global resumption of our event operations started with Intertextile Shenzhen Apparel Fabrics and the Yarn Expo Shenzhen that took place at the brand-new Shenzhen World Exhibition and Convention Centre in China from 15 to 17 July. A total of 42,000 visits were recorded at the event.

The trade fairs not only demonstrated the importance of personal encounters, but also highlighted the increased need for face-to-face meetings to ensure business continuity in the current situation. Trade fairs are also resuming business in Germany as we are gearing up for the 2020 Frankfurt Book Fair and working in close cooperation with the Health Department of the City of Frankfurt to intensify safety and hygiene measures.

Talking about India, we are currently working in consultation with industry stakeholders on two of our major textile sector trade fairs and are waiting for a green signal from the government for re-opening exhibitions in the country.

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