Crucial journey for the resumption of the show

In a risk planning exercise for UBM’s senior management a few years ago, Paul Woodward writesSimon Foster remembers being asked to come up with an imaginary scenario that would bring the global exhibition industry to a halt. Taking into account the experience of the 2011 Icelandic volcano ash cloud and SARS two years later, they decided that a global pandemic that ended air travel would. “They weren’t very serious about offering this and even the professional running the meeting told us ‘I think you’re a little outrageous,'” Foster recalls.

Not as outrageous as they sadly imagined, and although travel picks up in places, it remains heavily disrupted across the world. This undoubtedly continues to have a significant impact on the resumption of exhibition activities. Some markets remain much more severely affected, while others have what appear to be much better plans for breaking out of a world of lockdowns, quarantines and closed borders.

Again this week, AUMA, the German association of the exhibition industry, noted that “around 60% of the approximately 180,000 exhibitors each year [at German fairs] come from abroad, including a third from countries outside Europe ”. Around 30% of visitors to these fairs also come from outside Germany. “Open borders and the smoothest possible international travel are therefore essential for German trade fairs,” AUMA continued. The fact that they’re not open, international travel remains anything but smooth and looks set to stay that way for a while means that jwc’s Global Industry Performance Review predicts that Germany will only return to 75% of pre-pandemic activity levels by 2023. The successful launch of the EU’s Covid digital certificate will certainly have been hailed as a step in the right direction as the rest of the EU is a crucial market source for Germany.

Some of the larger markets where international trade is the “icing on the cake”, but certainly not the main part of the cake, are almost immune to this problem. Domestic travel in China is now back above pre-pandemic levels. In the United States, the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) reports that while around 60% of companies had canceled or suspended most or all domestic travel by mid-June, more than half of them expected to resume in the next one to three months. . The same poll, however, found that a global average of 91% of all companies had suspended most or all of their international business travel and that only 21% expected this to change in the 1 to Next 3 months.

The willingness of business people to travel appears to exceed prudent travel policies. The same GBTA study found that 77% of those surveyed were either “somewhat” or “very willing” to travel, up from 49% at the start of the year. Anecdotal evidence from organizers and exhibitor groups shows that among regular show attendees, the figure is likely to be even higher.

There have been striking reports from the Middle East of international attendees of fairs in Dubai willing to tolerate up to 14 days of quarantine upon their return from what they considered to be important events. At the time, these were pretty much the only events held for this industry and the potential benefits of attending were significant. It will be interesting to see if, if quarantine requirements are maintained, that same level of enthusiasm will apply as more national and regional events reopen in other countries.

Markets that rely heavily on international buyers have taken very different approaches. As we reported a few weeks ago, Dubai has continued its program of events for most of this year. The reopening after the hot Gulf summer, when events like GITEX have had time to coincide with the kickoff of the delayed Expo 2020 World’s Fair, will provide a good barometer of how close the return to normal is.

Hong Kong has taken an ultra-cautious approach with strict and extended hotel quarantines for all visitors, including returning residents. There is no indication that this could end in the foreseeable future. With most of its shows dependent 70% or more on international buyers and high levels of international exhibitors, the industry effectively remains frozen there. Most of the 2020 schedule has been lost, as has most, if not all, of 2021. We are deeply in uncharted waters as to the impact of losing two or more years of a trade show cycle on the market. loyalty of exhibitors. Hong Kong’s saving grace at this point is that virtually nowhere else in the region is open to attract its international customers.

That could of course change if Singapore’s new approach to the pandemic is successful. At the end of June, the government announced that it would gradually begin to implement a significant change of course, moving from a strict containment strategy to what is described as “living with an endemic Covid-19”. The responsible ministers told the Straits Times newspaper: “The bad news is that Covid-19 may never go away. The good news is that it is possible to live normally with her among us ”. Among other things, they said, with a combination of testing and vaccination “we can gradually relax our rules of safe management and resume large gatherings also at major events … Companies will have the confidence that their operations will not be disturbed ”.

Above all, they noted that “we will be able to travel again… We will recognize each other’s vaccination certificates. Travelers, particularly vaccinated, can be tested before departure and be exempt from quarantine with a negative test on arrival ”. This will potentially give Singapore a substantial advantage over rivals in the Asia-Pacific region who are steadfastly sticking to their ‘zero Covid’ strategies or are struggling to get enough of their population vaccinated before the next waves arrive. and variants of the virus.

Mutual recognition of vaccination certificates remains a challenge in all of this. The World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) recently said that “the restart of international travel could be seriously delayed without reciprocal global recognition of all approved Covid-19 vaccines”. IATA, the international association of airlines, has pushed its Travel Pass application as a common standard, although there are several competing programs even for this effort to standardize procedures. IATA also recently called on countries to follow the new World Health Organization (WHO) travel guidelines which recommend a “risk-based approach”.

There is a clear need for governments, the travel and trade fair industries to work together as closely as possible to build confidence that business travel can once again be safe and convenient. As the Economist Said it this week, “For the economic recovery to continue, people must be prepared to mix with others.”

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