It is no secret that the pandemic has affected all sectors like never before. Perhaps, the exhibition and conference industry was one of the most affected, owning to the cancellation and postponement of thousands of scheduled events, estimated at about 32,000 exhibitions annually.
As the pandemic is still bulldozing its way from east to west and north to south, the damage is getting greater, causing the global economy to slow down in a way never seen before, which in turn has led to cutting on spending and changing consumption habits, not to mention the bankruptcy of many SMEs. And in some cases, even large enterprises. This explains how all businesses and key sectors such as travel and tourism are facing extraordinary challenges. The global economy is going through a period of forced restructuring, at a time when the concept of digital transformation is dominating all economic and societal activities.
Of course. there are some pessimists who argue that the pandemic has put the final nail in the coffin of the exhibition sector, and will only be saved by the discovery of a vaccine for the virus. But personally, I do believe that these theories are divorced from reality.
We firmly believe that challenges are the source of opportunities, and that the exhibition and conference industry will remain the engine of the next growth of th economy. But how and why?
Not talking radical change
It is true that the post-COVID-19 economy will be different from the one we had before the outbreak. But such a transformation certainly means the necessity to adopt changes that may not be completely radical, but sufficient to give a strong impetus to this industry to lead the economy in the recovery phase.
To be crystal clear, I can say that furnishing the exhibition and conference sector with advanced technologies is one of the ideal solutions that would guarantee the safety of visitors and exhibitors, and end up enriching the experience of participants. Certainly, augmented reality, virtual reality and artificial intelligence can be used to turn exhibitions into platforms for making the future of the global economy.
A hand in all
Make no mistake, the exhibition industry drives growth in all sectors without exception, and its effects are both direct and indirect. There are more than 4.5 million exhibitors participating in events all around the world every year, according to the International Federation of Exhibition & Event Services (IFES).
But the question is: What does the future hold? Although there is no easy answer, we need to be confident that stimulating the global economy and speeding up its recovery begins with the exhibition industry. Policymakers have to be aware that the sector should be a key part of all recovery plans, and only then can we begin the process.
Move beyond traditional
We also need greater concerted efforts of all stakeholders, decision-makers and the business sector to push for this, in addition to a roadmap on how to benefit from technological progress in improving the traditional exhibition concept.
There is no doubt that the traditional concept of exhibitions will not die out. Despite previous epidemics, exhibitions did not disappear. Direct communication and promotion of products, goods and services are indispensable, and that this is an integral part of the business culture.
Despite the unprecedented circumstances and mounting challenges, there still remains a ray of hope. The journey of a thousand miles towards economic recovery begins with the exhibitions and conferences sector. We have to learn from lessons, unite our efforts and think outside-the-box to come up with new ideas.
This sector will certainly come back stronger, simply because we are aware of its indispensability. We have seen the benefits on our economy and have realized its importance on the development process, and only time will tell us the next phase.
- Saif Mohammed Al Midfa is CEO of Expo Centre Sharjah and member of the board of directors for the Global Association of the Exhibition Industry.