To celebrate Global Exhibitions Day 2017 (June 7), we sit down with UFI’s managing director and CEO, Kai Hattendorf, to discuss industry trends, the future of exhibitions, and Asia’s new-found prominence.

What can event planners do to promote the value of trade shows and exhibitions and ensure the industry remains viable?

Trade shows are one of the oldest business models in the world, and have been consistently successful as the organisers of these marketplaces adapt to changing needs. The current task is to showcase the value of ‘face-to-face’ in a business environment that is increasingly driven by digital tools and processes.

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How can event planners prepare for the predicted rise in regional shows? How have you seen this trend develop in Asia?

As a market for exhibitions, Asia has enjoyed the fastest growth ever seen in our industry in recent years. UFI research shows there are twice as many venues capable of hosting international exhibitions now compared with ten years back. International organisers have launched spin-offs of successful shows in Asia in recent years, a strategy known as 'geo-cloning'.

The recent acquisition of independent organiser Allworld by the British industry giant UBM is just the one example of the global industry’s interest in securing leading roles in Asia.

With this comes competition, and the need to stand out and have your show accredited and recognised as a quality event. Key here is that organisers can prove their participation figures are real through getting them audited.

 

The industry seems to have a love/hate relationship with digitisation. What are the main challenges here? 

Ever since the arrival of the internet, there has been a reflexive fear in the exhibition industry that the internet, or social media, or—right now—virtual reality might literally replace the physical trade show. Instead, all these waves of new digital opportunities have made our industry stronger. Just imagine organising an international exhibition without using the internet, or without marketing it through social media.

The biggest challenge for the exhibition industry is to find and attract the right talent among the now well-educated ‘digital natives’ and to bring them into our industry, so that we remain in sync with the changing needs of our customers.

So we need to listen more to the next generation of industry leaders, instead of talking about them. At UFI, we’ve launched a Next Generation Leadership Grant to find and promote global talent in our industry. And we give them our biggest platform—the main stage at our annual UFI Global Congress—to address the global leadership of the exhibition industry and to present their take on our industry’s future.

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Finding and retaining talent is a huge challenge, especially in Asia. How can the industry better engage with the ‘next generation’ of event professionals?

We always suggest a combination of engagement and development: Reach out through the digital channels to where the young professionals are, and engage them through campaigns like Global Exhibitions Day. And we advise companies to invest in educating their staff to grow their skills and to retain them.

UFI already offers education for this around the world, but this year we’ll take this a step further, and launch a new high-class qualification scheme, focusing on venue management, together with the Venue Management Association (VMA). We’ll run the first classes in China later this year.