Face to Face Encounters for Business Networking will be Irreplaceable

By: Mr Raj Manek, Executive Director and Board Member, Messe Frankfurt Asia Holding Ltd

business networking

Globally, there are approximately 32,000 exhibitions each year, featuring 4.5 million exhibiting companies and attracting over 303 million visitors. Exhibitors and visitors combined spend around €116 billion ($137 billion US) every year on exhibitions, making exhibitions a significant global industry.

In India, the size of exhibition industry is INR 23,800 crore. More than 550 events are conducted annually in the organised sector. However, the outbreak of the COVID-19 Pandemic has resulted in an estimated loss of INR 3,570 crore for the entire sector which may further escalate if the crisis lingers on.

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.

Mr Raj Manek, Executive Director and Board Member, Messe Frankfurt Asia Holding Ltd

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 ‘Organized Gatherings’ rather than ‘Mass Gatherings’, and permitted the opening of trade exhibitions under strict safety guidelines.

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. 

The Messe Frankfurt group’s global 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 its trade shows in attracting high international component of business travelers that boost the regions travel and tourism industry.

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.

The role of Technology & what Exhibitions will look like going forward

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.