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The year 2020 could have been remembered as the one in which the trade show died. Instead, thanks to organisers’ ability to react and think on their feet, it may end up being the one when it came of age, writes editor Richard Burton


THE CONCEPT WAS FLAWLESS AND ITS APPLICATION DEFIANT IN THE FACE OF A GLOBAL PANDEMIC THAT HAD closed everything from the Oktoberfest to the Bundesliga and all but stopped global industry in its tracks. The title of the revamped event was open and without excuses: a Special Edition, latterly described as being “the same but different”. In every way it had sought to face the problems head-on, adapting to the circumstances and reshaping an event by simply reinventing itself. Of course, this wasn’t a decision taken in isolation.


Far from it, in fact. Soundings were taken as long ago as May when exhibitors were asked for their views. A questionnaire was sent to those on the event database and, while more than 60 per cent said that they probably would not come, significantly, more than 30 per cent indicated that they would attend the fair. The findings were clear enough. While there was no appetite for a large international trade fair, there was enough demand for what Exhibition Director Beate Fischer described at the time as “a platform for mutual dialogue - despite or perhaps because of all the turbulence“. But while no-one could have foreseen the devastating impact of the pandemic on the exhibition industry at the start of the year, the warnings were there. For example, the UFI’s Global Barometer research indicated that 85 per cent of companies had declared their overall level of activity as “normal” in January. But by March this had dropped to 15


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per cent and between five and six per cent in April. In fact, 73 percent of companies worldwide were declaring “no activity” for April and May.


Closer to home, one of the questions coming back from the exhibitors who were showing an interest concerned the type of visitor and where they would be coming from. Further soundings were taken which were inconclusive, unsurprising given that, unlike exhibitors, even the most well-intentioned visitor didn‘t have to invest in the show and could easily change their minds.


A DIFFICULT DECISION Meetings were held with the advisory board and members questioned how on earth an event such as this could take place when things were so unstable. But there was concensus on one thing – it was worth a try. Four weeks of hard work then went into turning a concept into reality and the Special Edition was born. Like most of the business world that had been forced to adapt to survive, POWTECH was not alone in thinking that a lot of the key features were destined to go online in the form of the talks and seminars regular visitors had found so useful over the past years.


But as Fischer later told a news conference – naturally, conducted online as well – people do need to “see and touch” the equipment, so the show, ideally, needed to have a physical form. So, unlike previous years which saw


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