WHAT WILL THE FUTURE EXHIBIT?

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As the entire world is now acutely aware, an outbreak of COVID-19 was detected in mainland China in December 2019. To prevent the contagion of this deadly virus, as per government instructions, most private companies went into shutdown and many lost their jobs. Since activities of the government, organizations and the economy go hand in hand, the emergence of a global pandemic is going to inevitably impact industries. One such industry is the exhibition industry. Around the world, the money spent by both exhibitors and visitors and the jobs that exhibitions generate, account for a significant portion of the global economy.

More specifically, around 32,000 exhibitions take place every year involving 4.5 million companies that participate in such exhibitions, stimulating visits from more than 303 million people. These companies and visiting people accumulated spend in excess of US $137 billion, generating approximately 3.2 million jobs in total. The cumulative output of this industry on a global scale, both directly and indirectly, sums up to roughly US $325 billion. Thus, being able to keep the health crisis on a leash while attempting to get the economy up and running again is one of the toughest challenges ahead for all governments.

Although we stand aware that the emergence of the virus outbreak has been detrimental to several industries, how bad is it exactly for the exhibition sector? The industry is still on hold as the pandemic and lockdown are still in motion, a fundamental and sizable portion and driver of the global and local economy remains at stake. The Global Association of Exhibition or UFI reports that trade shows all around the globe are facing a backlash of approximately US $27.7 billion. But monetary loss itself is not the sole determinant of the impact of the blow that COVID-19 has had on this rather thriving industry. Further research suggests that the damage is spread across a wide span, as over five hundred trade shows have either been dismissed or postponed globally. More specifically, as of now, a staggering amount of US $16.5 billion has already been paid as the price of such losses. The hardest blow has probably landed on the rented exhibition space of 3 million square meters for usage within the period in question.

The construction cost of such space is quoted to be around US $300, which equates to a grand total of US $900 million worth of loss for service providers. Keeping in mind the kind of costs such trade shows and exhibitions incur, canceling or rescheduling them for a later date may simply turn out to be “suicidal” for the companies organizing them. However, numerous companies have had to meet such a brutal fate as they were forced to either dismiss or postpone trade shows. In Europe, 614 trade fairs that were supposed to take place within March and April have been postponed. However, this is just the bird’s eye view. What about the losses that individual firms face from this situation? On average, companies with annual sales ranging from US $3.6 to $12 million have had their revenues trimmed down by as much as 25 percent. Such devastating business conditions are forcing these corporations to cut down on employees if they are to survive. Therefore, not only is it harming trade, it also is giving rise to unemployment.

The Asia Pacific stands as the most affected region, with losses summing up to US $9.6 billion. Europe arrives shortly after feeling the heat as it faces impacts worthy of US $6.6 billion. Additionally, regions with developing countries like India were also faced with disastrous conditions as the Gartex Texprocess Mumbai Edition has also been rescheduled. More simply explained, the exhibition industry is teetering in a precarious position.

Now the major question is, do the countries hold their ground in this situation, or do they go all in? Well, countries view integrating safety protocols and business ventures as the sole way to move forward. China organized its first extensive Hunan Auto Show maintaining closely supervised health and safety precautions in its Hunan Province with participation from 100 auto brands involving 600 vehicles and 60,000 square meters of exhibition area. Around 62,000 people visited the event throughout the six-day event. Germany was also not one to slack off and fall back. The AUMA- Association of the German Trade Fair Industry has presented a set of regulations to the policymakers of the nation, suggesting the reboot of trade shows and exhibitions. Moreover, the German government has removed exhibitions from the list of restrictions on mass gatherings.

On the other hand, the Italian Exhibition Group (IEG) has launched a new plan that they call the “#SafeBusiness” project. It basically is a well-thought-out and closely supervised plan in which they are to collaborate with apparel and catering firms, international operators, and technicians to emphasize every phase in the trade fair. Furthermore, the UFI has released instructions and regulatory guidance on the revival of trade shows and exhibitions in the post-pandemic scenario. In one of the Indian Exhibition Industry Association’s virtual events, the minister of MSME, Nitin Gadkari suggested releasing safety guidelines e.g. distance protocols, sanitization and mask requirements, etc. for the upcoming trade shows.

In conclusion, for the world to operate properly, the economy must go on. And as we all know by now, the exhibition industry is a crucial aspect of the global economy, one which must continue for trade to remain steady and sound. Nothing should remain stagnant for too long and alternatives must be thought of for us to keep moving forward. Necessity is the mother of invention and new ways of conducting safe yet successful trade shows need to be figured out.

Sanitization, masks, social distancing, cashless transactions, contactless entry, and possibly even shows conducted in virtual space are just a few examples of strategies that can be adopted and implemented. Trade shows and the exhibition industry opens a world of opportunities and advancement for all, and we should definitely grab them with both hands. If today is the sunset of bad times, there will soon be a sunrise of good times.

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