The show must continue: the evolution of the show

With much of 2020 having been written off for trade shows and exhibitions, organizers are hoping 2021 will prove to be more fruitful, adopting digital and physical hybrids to evolve the format in a post-pandemic world.

Vinexpo Bordeaux: photo credit: Jean Bernard Nadeau

Following the emergence of the Covid-19 virus early last year, the 2020 trade show calendar has collapsed as governments around the world have restricted travel and locked down entire countries, meaning the hospitality industry has been forced to close its doors. With the emergence of new strains of the virus and the reinstatement of restrictions, has the return of the 2021 show been compromised?

As Rodolphe Lameyse, CEO of Vinexpo underlines: “When you are faced with a pandemic like Covid-19, the most certain thing you know is that you have to manage uncertainty.

The choice of the organizers has been difficult: cancel or adapt, and many big names – ProWein, Vinexpo Bordeaux, New York and Hong Kong, and the London Wine Fair – have seen their hopes of hosting a physical event dashed in recent months. But Lameyse says organizers have a duty to their partners to think about what they can do as a replacement or workaround – especially after such a tumultuous year when the need to do business is never greater. . So the old adage that “the show must go on” is true.

As ProWein’s Bastian Mingers says, holding ProWine Shanghai last November showed that the demand for events is still there, even during a pandemic. “Rather, the question is what framework conditions need to be created in the future and what safe precautions need to be taken to provide all the prerequisites for a successful trade fair,” he says.

Rodolphe Lameyse, CEO of Vinexpo

At the time of going to press, Vinexpo Paris was set to be the first physical trade show on this year’s calendar, and will no doubt be closely watched to see how large-scale events can be organized in a post-pandemic world, with measures in place. . But other organizers choose to integrate digital elements, with fairs such as Vinexpo Shanghai, World Bulk Wine Exhibition (WBWE) and Millesime Bio organized purely digitally to facilitate exchanges.

Hannah Tovey of the London Wine Fair, which announced in mid-January its intention to go digital only after the deteriorating situation in the UK ruled out a hybrid model, underlines the advantages of this route. “This expands the live element of the show, allowing exhibitors to engage with a large audience beyond three days, and will also attract a larger audience, those for whom traveling to Olympia is just not a good idea. viable option, ”she said.

Lameyse agrees, noting that the Vinexpo online platform launched last year, Vinexposium Connect, not only helped the team stay in close contact with partners and exhibitors during the year, but has also extended its reach beyond its target audience, engaging with professionals in new regions. , as well as educated wine lovers.

“It’s clear to me that the digital opportunities area was absolutely the right thing to do – we worked with the team to find the opportunities for our client and find interesting and relevant content for our community to keep the connection going.” , Lameyse explains. “We want to use it as a second medium to convey and send our customers’ message to a new large audience. “

This element is recognized in hybrid models – at World Bulk Wine Exhibition Asia, for example, producers can book virtual stands at the show, which are supported by WBWE staff.

Last year was one of the big ideas, says WBWE’s Otilia Romero de Condes. “We thought and acted faster than ever, and that sparked a lot of ideas. One of the major innovations has been the advancement of online presence by industry gurus. Suddenly, during confinement, we had the opportunity to follow real masterclasses and business talks with personalities who, until now, only spoke in large rooms.

This trend is likely to continue to grow and become even more targeted in the post-pandemic world, she says.

Hannah Tovey from the London Wine Fair

But as essential as virtual meetings and masterclasses have been over the past year, all the organizers agreed that in a sociable industry that relies so much on relationships and tasting a physical product, there are many areas. difficult to transfer to the digital world.

“At some point, you want to taste the product, smell it, have it in your mouth, and that’s obviously the digital limit,” says Lameyse. “The mix of digital and physical is an opportunity to deliver events. And unlike other categories, we have a lot of room for improvement in the digital world, which excites me the most because we are not yet mature. “

Tovey of the London Wine Fair argues that the pandemic is already changing the way people think about many aspects of their lives.

“Being more aware of the need to travel at all levels, from local to international, is just one thing we will need to consider,” she says. “While much of the business of the wine industry has to take place in person, face to face with tastings – and nothing can entirely replace that – there are certainly elements that can, for some, be better. operate virtually, especially when time constraints make travel difficult.

The “big revolution” of video conferencing, online transactions, online events and telecommuting are irreversible changes, says Romero de Condes, but companies must now re-evaluate the ideas that emerged last year. “Now is the time to plan ahead, to revamp all this huge innovation that has arisen during the crisis and see how we can improve it to make sense in the long term.”

As Lameyse argues, you can’t go through a pandemic like this without changing and adapting. “The real question is, have we made the right changes? ” he says.

Please see our guide here to the exhibitions and trade shows slated to take place – whether in physical or digital form – in 2021. We will update them as more information becomes available.

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