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Saturday October 23rd, 2021

Despite challenges, trade fairs will stay

ECONOMYNEXT – As all economic activity across the globe slowed down with the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, governments and businesses put Trade Fairs on hold. Now, in the second year of the pandemic, and the gradual recovery of the global economy, organisers are looking at different methods in which Trade Fairs could be re-introduced.

Trade Fairs are integral to the economy; it is an opportunity for businesses to promote their products and make sales and more importantly, it is a platform to check out the competition, expand business networks, learn about customer preferences, and to connect with existing clients and establish new ones.

In a time almost all businesses are conducted digitally, would this be the preferred option for Trade Fairs too?  Or, are hybrid versions possible?  How could businesses showcase the capabilities and efficiency of products, if clients are unable to touch and examine innovations?

As the President of JWC, Jochen Witt explained, virtual connections work perfectly well in one to one, or one to many audiences.  Not so in the case of Trade Fairs.

It will, at least for the next year or so, take on a hybrid form, Witt told a Webinar on the ‘Comeback of Trade Fairs’, organised by the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom(FNF), South Asia, on October 4th.  The webinar is part of the ‘Restart Asian Economies’ series conducted by FNF. The webinar was moderated by Canadian-Pakistani TV host and socio political analyst, Wakar Rizvi.

With business travel and airline capacities not expected to bounce back until at least 2025, and digital advancements taking centre stage, the trend of Trade Fairs being held across borders will take longer to make a comeback. Instead, he points out, with fewer or no restriction of movement within a country or a region, Trade Fairs will be contained within the domestic sphere. The people, he points out will be selective about the events they attend and organisers must take care in ensuring the returns are worthwhile to both exhibitor and visitor.

With cancellations a constant possibility, organisers are offering standard size booths to mitigate costs, while additional expenses such as sanitizing is shared between organiser and exhibitor.

JWC, he says is considering a hybrid version, where, while face-to-face shows would be followed by digitally connecting clients and businesses, throughout the year.  It is a concept that will try to compensate for the limited reach of a face-to-face trade show and will involve year- long events that will include training, and new interests and matching between businesses.

Panelist Sambit Kumar Mund, Senior General Manager, Business Development, Hyderabad Trade Expositions Ltd. is optimistic. While digitally connecting stakeholder will continue to be part of Trade Shows, he says he is confident that physical set ups will bounce back at least by the next quarter. Trade fairs are increasingly taking on a domestic focus he says, adding however that the scale of the exhibitions have shrunk by fifty percent.  India is seeing a decent recovery of its economy, and both the Central and State governments are focusing on the manufacturing sector, which is key to Trade Fairs. However, he notes that the hesitancy on the part of mid- level managers and project managers to take risks has resulted in constant postponements.

Despite the challenges, Hydrebad had been the first trade venue to open in India. However, the move comes with several changes to make it more attractive to exhibitors.

Where previously, fair participants were required to pay a fixed rate for the venue, organisers now require only a percentage of the revenue as rental fee. As well, the organisers of the fair take care of arranging for licenses etc. so exhibitors, who are mostly from outside the city, can focus on displaying their products and networking.

Small and large players are getting more innovative he says, adding that one trade show had an international pavilion, where Israel displayed their products for visitors to view digitally.

All of the shows follow globally accepted standard operating practices says Mund, who explained organisers are mindful that the trade fair should not turn into a hot spot for the virus. Ensuring the presence of para-medics, ambulances, on-call doctors and a medical centre is the responsibility of the venue’s management.

It would, Mund says,  be useful for businesses to consider different approaches to conducting business, in keeping with the new normal. Regional coordination, for instance better relations between India and Pakistan, would help, he points out.

Though ensuring Trade Fairs attractive to stakeholders without the sensory aspect is challenging, Witt points out that in Germany the 2G and 3G rules are enforced. (The 2G rule permits only those who are vaccinated or who have recovered from Covid 19 to enter business premises, the 3G rules, also requires a negative PCR test.)

With all safety protocols in place, Dusseldorf had, in September held a trade fair for caravans and mobiles homes. The event had attracted 175,000 visitors.

Shaira Saleem, Chairperson, Women Entrepreneurs Association, Maldives  who said that her country is making preparations to attend a Trade Fair to be held in Germany, pointed out that while the Maldives tourist industry has been able to stay the course the pandemic has taken its toll on ancillary businesses. To ensure safety, tourists to the Maldives during the pandemic are required to remain within one resort, as are hotel staff.  While that served the purpose of controlling the spread of the virus amongst tourists, it has meant that businesses providing other services have suffered; for instance women who started businesses in 2019/2020. Even though there has been assistance from the government, with the circulation of currency within the country limited, big businesses as well and small and mid-level enterprises have faced losses.

While digital display and attendance is the preferred option, Saleem states that most Maldivians are not yet digitally savvy for that. However, she is confident that with time, things would get back to normal.

According to Mund, ancillary services such as hotels in India have slashed their prices by as much as 50 percent, and have adopted diversified business models. Already, restaurants are full and the industry is expected to bounce back by January.

Even though the pandemic resulted in workers branching out into different career paths, investor confidence remains high, says Witt. The scope and structure of Trade Fairs may change, but, he is confident that such shows will not be a thing of the past. (Colombo/Oct09/2021)


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