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‘India will be one of the most exciting markets of the future’

Michael Duck Michael Duck

Set to lead UFI as President in 2022-23, Michael Duck, EVP - Commercial Development, Informa Markets & Informa Group, shares his perspective about the current scenario of the global exhibition industry and the way forward

The global exhibition industry has witnessed a major setback with the second wave of the pandemic further deterring the industry to get back to normal. Few Governments have been successful in understanding the socio-economic benefits of this industry and assisted the stakeholders to restart exhibitions with stringent protocols. UFI, the global association of the world’s leading tradeshow organisers and fairground owners, is working towards enabling the industry to restart exhibitions, seamlessly.

Covid-19 pandemic has brought down the exhibition industry to a standstill, how is the scenario unfolding in terms of revival of the global exhibition industry?

Well its unfortunately much slower than we all thought it was going to be. Some events have restarted in different geographies such as China, Japan and Korea around six months ago. All of these are domestic exhibitions with domestic exhibitors and domestic buyers, though some International buying offices and international trade offices are attending or exhibiting.

In Dubai as an International hub some major shows have taken place such as Gulfood, ATM, Arab Health with good numbers of international exhibitors and visitors. In Florida, few domestic boat shows have taken place in Miami and Fort Lauderdale over the past few months. Las Vegas, which has been shut for nearly one year, the World of Concrete show took place post re-opening of the city. Let’s all hope that this is a start in having many other cities/ countries and regions to open up.

In some countries, the Delta variant of Covid is causing increasing infection rates which is meaning that yet again some borders to be closed. However, in most countries the vaccination rates have risen, and people are feeling more confident and that those industries like restaurants and other service industries are once again open, albeit slowly.

In India, we all know the Covid numbers a few months ago rose to very high levels and fatalities were sadly much too high. The rates are reducing but we need to bring them down further. Indian vaccination levels are improving markedly which is encouraging.

What situation do you foresee for Indian exhibition industry? What timeframe do you anticipate for physical exhibitions getting back to 2019 levels in India?

I have been involved heavily with the Indian industry especially in the last 15 years and I hope and pray that we can get back to normal as soon as possible. Just at the time when we have excellent exhibition space newly built in Delhi and also in Mumbai, this is the time to grow.

I have no doubt that it will happen. India will be one of the most exciting markets of the future. I am confident that we need to have a “restart date”, possibly January 1, 2022 When we can say the Indian market will take off…. I hope I am right!

How challenging it has been for the members of UFI to face the current situation?

It has been very challenging for all members of UFI around the world. All businesses in our exhibition world can only run on positive cash flows. If the organisers have no exhibitions, then the venues have no cash flow and everyone else in the ‘supply Chain’ such as stand contractors, freight forwarders, registration specialists, marketing professionals, food & drink suppliers etc. Also, hotels, restaurants, shops and airlines have dry bank accounts. Hence, there is a need to restart our industry.

How governments across the globe have been facilitating for the growth of exhibition industry?

Some governments are better than others as some understand our business model and what fantastic value flows it brings to cities/ countries/ industries etc.  In Hong Kong, for instance, right from the start of the pandemic, the Government offered to pay for the venue costs. This brought a lot of positive recognition to Hong Kong and helped with confidence and the several B2C shows that have taken place. It then marked Hong Kong as a leading trade fair centre. Others should follow their example.

What would be UFI’s short-mid to long term strategy to revive the exhibition industry? What support is UFI extending to its members?

UFI has done a huge amount of work this past year in information flow to the industry across the world. UFI is also working with international associations and governments in advising how best to restart and relaunch trade fairs in a safe and secure way.

A lot of work is going on from all the UFI offices led by the MD Kai Hattendorf and by the President Anbu Varathan to talk with the highest authorities in each country to assist and help the Trade fair industry.

As the incoming president of UFI, what will be your strategy towards further strengthening the association?

I will be supporting President Anbu Varathan and after November this year President Monica Lee-Müller. Like them, I will be working hard in reopening our industry and also showing all media and governments as to what a fantastic force trade fairs are in restarting economies and especially helping SME’s to grow.

Do you see digital and virtual exhibitions as the way forward or do you foresee pre-covid level demand for physical exhibitions?

I see, as everyone else does as well, that digital is here to stay, but as a part of a hybrid offering. Virtual trade shows for some verticals may well stay, depending on how good the software and databases are. I have no doubt, especially in India that people will be back attending physical trade shows very quickly. That’s the nature of the exciting Indian market.

How UFI plans to support its members on implementing green and sustainable measures?

As the founder of the UFI sustainability committee some 15 years ago, I know that UFI like all other industries are and will keep implementing green and sustainable measures. The United Nations and every country attending the upcoming COP26 conference in Glasgow soon are leading the way for all of us to follow and ensure we leave the earth in a better state than when we came in. 

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