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Indian exhibition industry has suffered an estimated loss of over Rs 5000 Cr: S Balasubramanian, President, Indian Exhibition Industry Association

Indian exhibition industry has requested the government to consider exhibitions as ‘organised gathering’ and allow exhibitions to restart.

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The exhibition industry has been adversely impacted by the Covid 19 pandemic. The collective loss to the industry globally runs into billions of dollars.

To address the crisis faced by exhibition players in the country, The Indian Exhibition Industry Association (IEIA), the apex body of exhibitions and trade show industry in the country has requested the government to allow organising exhibitions, with all public safety measures so that the industry can reopen and survive. 

S Balasubramanian, President, Indian Exhibition Industry Association recently spoke to Namah Chawla about the issues concerning the exhibition industry. 

Excerpts:

What has been the impact of Covid on the exhibition industry, how big are the losses?

Globally, the exhibition industry has come to a standstill with nearly 10,000 trade fairs and exhibitions being cancelled or postponed. Worldwide, the exhibition industry has lost 81.6 billion euros in total for exhibitions alone. 

North America has been worst hit with 29.2 billion euros until the end of Q2, followed by Europe with 28.8 billion euros and Asia Pacific with 21.8 billion euros. As per IEIA estimates Indian exhibition industry has suffered an estimated loss of over Rs.5000 crores (approximately 565 million euros) this year with shows across various industry sectors in major exhibition venues being cancelled or postponed.

Exhibitions are key to rebuilding economies, do you think it is high time for the government to intervene and pave the way for the return of exhibitions?

Business exhibitions are the economic growth engines that act as the catalysts for promoting trade and commerce across countries. The exhibition industry facilitates trade and business transactions for exhibitors’ worth over Rs. 3 lac crores supporting the growth of all industries, besides generating government revenues estimated at around Rs. 19,500 crores annually at the Centre and State levels. The average exhibitor spend to business generation multiplier ratio goes as high as 1:12, which is a large output for industry and significant revenues for the government.

Exhibitions largely stimulate the growth of local economies of the regions where these are held, while generating colossal employment opportunities both in the organized and informal sectors. Moreover, the exhibition industry also acts as the backbone of MSMEs who largely rely on exhibitions for their business orders and sustenance, while a large chunk of the direct stakeholders of the sector comprising the Exhibition venue owners, Exhibition organizers & Service providers themselves fall under the category of MSME.

It is to be noted that governments in various countries have reopened venues and allowed exhibitions to restart in a calibrated manner and the same must be done in India as well which would help the country navigate past the challenges imposed by economic slowdown.

In view of trade and travel restrictions due to Covid-19, how do you see the road to recovery panning out?

Exhibition industry will also undergo a huge transformation with organisers and venues adapting to the new normal of the world that COVID has brought. Travel restrictions laid by Governments will be regulated with more safety protocols for international visitors and delegates to attend the events and exhibitions across the world. 

However, the exhibition industry will survive and recover fast after these shocks, and people will see each other with all the safety and healthy precautions in place. The Indian exhibition industry has approached the Government of India to restart exhibitions with safety measures and towards this it has drafted and submitted standard operating procedures.

Exhibitions will adopt more technology into the way they conduct exhibitions. Pre-event registrations will become mandatory, health screening at venues will become a part of the process, short visits and focused discussions at the exhibition booths would becomes a new norm for the visitors, digital marketing will gain more traction, hygienic F&B may become a new practice and with many such new norms industry will continue to hold face to face exhibitions.

The current situation has also opened up numerous opportunities to explore virtual exhibitions, and as people get more comfortable using this technology and attending virtual events, it is likely to become increasingly popular within the exhibition industry. Once the ban on mass gatherings is lifted, we could see people hosting hybrid events. With the technology and willingness to move forward, we’ll begin to see other elements of the exhibition industry go virtual. It is likely we’ll see more of this in the future, down to the convenience of not having to travel.

How is the exhibition industry looking at the digital space?

Exhibition industry needs to constantly evolve and add value to its customers. It is necessary to keep the exhibitors engaged and also provide them platforms and opportunities to connect with their clients’ in-order to keep the business ongoing. Digital space has enabled this for exhibition organisers through virtual shows. We have seen many shows and conferences across the world moving towards virtual shows and the trend might continue in future as well.

Digital space has proved to be an effective tool for virtual shows. It has enabled the exhibition industry to keep engaged with customers, peers and entire stake holders through webinars, meetings and online training. Every individual in the industry is today connected with each other in cyberspace and is able to understand and contribute to overcome the challenges the industry is facing today.

What are some of the relief measures/support that the industry is seeking from the government?

Indian exhibition industry has requested the government to consider exhibitions as ‘organised gathering’ and allow exhibitions to restart. IEIA has prepared the standard SOP for restarting and the same has been submitted to the government for consideration. 

IEIA has also approached the Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade, Ministry of Commerce & Industry and the Ministry of Finance for stimulus packages such as deferment of income tax liabilities, reduction in GST for exhibition services, collateral free working capital loan facilities for exhibition organisers, venue rental support, incentive to Indian exhibition organisers, etc. Incentivize participation by MSME in industrial exhibitions.

How are different brands looking at using exhibitions for their products/services? Is there any change in their perspective?

The entire business model of organising exhibitions will change in the future. The process of engaging with customers will be more focused with changing market dynamics and the marketing strategy will include digital means along with face to face. 

Exhibitions are tactile, and offer opportunities that simply can’t be reproduced electronically, even in the most realistic VR world. However, what the pandemic has taught us is that there are benefits to virtual and online collaboration and it will accelerate the use of these technologies as enhancements and added value to live event programmes. Going forward, companies will accept both forms of exhibitions depending on their perceived needs.

What are some of the SOPs that have been created and measures undertaken for safe restart?

IEIA has carefully reviewed the entire journey of exhibition organization and has created recommendations for the same. These include SOPs for pre-event planning phase, event activation phase, and post-event phase. The SOPs also include general recommendations for health and safety such as maintenance of infrastructure with focus on AC ducts, toilets, public areas, etc. 

Organisers encouraging pre-registration of visitors to minimize queues in the registration area, seeking health declarations from attendees, use of technology to minimize human interface, sanitization, use of masks and face shields, social distancing, etc. Venues will provide ambulances, isolation areas for suspected Covid cases, disinfecting vehicles, setting up cross functional communication plans to ensure smooth and prompt communication of critical information during exhibition days.



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