A pledge for urgent changes – NOW – A reality check for exhibition organisers and exhibitors

A pledge for urgent changes – NOW

A reality check for exhibition organisers and exhibitors

By Virginia F. Bodmer-Altura

The great majority of worldwide organisers of technical exhibitions are prospering above economic development and they make hefty profits. Machinery manufacturers of all segments, including textile machinery, but also textiles and clothing are among the strongest category of exhibitors worldwide! They face high exhibition costs because of the multiplication of exhibitions to be attended and the ever growing number of new and specialised exhibitions. At the same time, these exhibitors face eroding margins because of an increasing uncertain future economic global development. They are also confronted with ever rising costs, fees and restrictions applied by the exhibition organisers. It is high time to take an initiative to make a reality check and to urge drastic changes resulting in a new order and translating into future benefits for all involved.

Today’s economic thinking might not be the one of tomorrow

The enduring economic and financial crisis and the excesses practiced in our capitalistic western system, the ecological pressures and the political inability to create new curing and resolving frameworks to enhance nationally and internationally have led to some drastic changes that will be felt even more though in the future. Also, think tanks and scientists have changed their frame of mind. This creates additionally a new environment for services – and organisers of exhibition belong to this category (!) – but also for goods manufacturers.

Let’s have an example, small but significant: We just got an urgent message from Japanese Shima Seiki Mfg. Ltd., exhibitor at ITMA Asia + CITME and Masaki Karasuno complains: “It has come to my attention that the Press Center (located in Hall E76) at ITMA Asia unfortunately will not perform the function of a centralised distribution of press kits” and he adds: “As I believe that such a service is considered invaluable to both exhibitors and members of the press community, who otherwise must walk great distances to gather all their information within a relatively short period of time, I have raised this issue with the organisers. Unfortunately, however they are unable to change their policy for this edition of the exhibition (but stated that they would consider it in subsequent editions)”. This is exactly what I criticise, the organisers are at the helm and the exhibitors have to follow against their will and fight for their rights on site, mostly with negative results.That much for this authentic criticism.

The key question is not how much growth each can create and reach. but if growth is still attainable at all. If we take the example of the bank and financial sectors, to some extend as well the insurance business, we note that in industrialised countries these institutions tend to shrink, to restrict themselves to certain areas of activity and to definitely stay away from some others and this not only because of the stricter rules implemented by their supervision bodies, but because the face of the world is drastically changing. It is absolutely foreseeable that other segments of services and manufacturing will have to shrink, or at least to concentrate, not only in size but probably also in view to capital and financial operations, leading to the fact, that cost efficiency and sustainability will be the ultimate name of the game, only to secure the existence of a company. The essence of these developments will require a new order, joint action and partnership, and probably, in view to societies, more solidarity, sharing and participation. Therefore all parties involved will have to think over and have to adaptat their strategy, their organisation, their products, their acting and their aims and their commercial success.

The analysis of the status quo around exhibitions

I don’t deny that exhibitions are attributes to an economy and that organisers have enhanced their business over the years and that their experience allows now to explore the last new markets, in the textile relevant area there are countries and regions such as Cambodia, Vietnam, Myanmar, Bangladesh and Africa and others. The organisers of exhibitions are trying to expand by multiplying their business model and their brands to other countries, areas and promising new industrial segments in order to secure growth. In the countries that are opening up, they bring knowhow, they attract foreign visitors/buyers and business partners and probably future investors. All of that might be beneficial to the economy of such countries on the long run but in a new order the organisers will have to make further contributions at the level of sustainability and good citizenship in these countries. The organisers gain a lot of knowhow from their exhibitor-customers free of charge, respectively the exhibitor has to pay and is not rewarded with an incentive – except maybe an award (for which he paid before by frequent participation in exhibitions) – and the transfer of his innovative knowhow is quasi free of charge, not only to visitors but also to the organisers. The exhibitor is also contributing to the success of exhibitions and their organisers, because exhibitors invite their customer base and motivate them to visit the exhibition and this is an additional cost factor for the exhibitors but rather beneficial to the organisers. All in all, I wouldn’t call this arrangement a full partnership, do you?

For me as a neutral observer the power play is in full action and the play is for quite some time in place and in the hands of exhibition organisers, because they offer the infrastructure and certain services, including local work, but they are continuously demanding more money and extra charges for no additional services that were before included in the basic packages. The exhibitor has practically no chance to resist to these new fees and costs when he arrives at the exhibition grounds and affronting the deadline to be fully installed prior to the opening of the exhibition that is nearing. The exhibitor feels without arms. Therefore, many exhibitors are speaking of modern piracy what exhibition organisers are practicing without scruple, especially in no-industrialised or emerging countries.

The textile relevant exhibition focus

In the coming days, ITMA Asia + CITME will take place, an important textile machinery exhibition in Asia. In some countries machinery manufacturers as exhibitors will get some subsidies from their home countries for their presence at these fairs, whereas others don’t. The creation of “Pavillions” as showcases of a nation (with presence of officials, professional associations, scientific institutions and exhibitors) was the answer of the organisers to this aspect and in creating additional business for them.

Anyhow, professional associations do play an important role in view to exhibitions. In the textile machinery area CEMATEX the European umbrella organisation is the owner of the ITMA brand, and the member associations do benefit of this fact, because in the case of ITMA Asia + CITME, a sort of “royalties” for the ITMA brand is flowing back to the associations. This is beneficial for each association and its existence but it does not necessarily strengthen a one voice weight within CEMATEX, because national interests are by far more important than the common cause. Adding to this complexity of differing interests is also the fact that the members of national organisations – by nature of their diverse industrial sub-segments – do have differing interests and goals. The list of textile exhibitions to attend is long! Not to forget that the association bodies have also to defend their existence. What do we conclude from this? Because there is no practised uniform charter and resulting policy the impact of actions truly representing the interests of all members of the national organisation is not given. The umbrella organisation is defending its own interest and can always circumnavigate a more or less uniform doctrine because of the disunity of its members. The factor of competition is as well present which doesn’t facilitate things either. This has led in the past and recent present to some awkward decisions by attempted blackmailing.

Within the national associations, protests and boycott ideas are failing because of antitrust laws. All leads to the fact that scattered opinions lay the grounds for an inherent weakness of the effectiveness of the umbrella organisation to be a real counterweight against the interests of the exhibition organisers. With other words, there are too many controversial interlinks and interests on the part of the exhibitors and their associations to constitute a new and satisfactorily order in the exhibition business, starting with a better date-coordination, frequency of exhibitions, locations, exhibitors costs and conditions (e.g. selective choice of participation at member level), etc.. This situation is not specifically one of textile machinery but a general problem amongst professional associations to guarantee the interests of member variety. But it adds to uneven partnership, whereas today and in the future partnership will be of ever growing interest to achieve common goals. In times with rich margins for all, the problem solution is less urgent and evident but when cost efficiency and sustainability are constantly and steadily required in the future, a new partnership culture has to emerge to cover mutual interests with an equal weight of each partner to secure minimal growth and adequate margin for all.

The urgent need for action

  • It becomes obvious that there is a need for urgent action and especially because of the future uncertain economic environment.
  • The time to act is now, because in times of uncertainty the iron for the future can be forged more easily.
  • It is high time that each member of a professional association is putting pressure on the decision making bodies to act in the defined interest of their members and take those decisions to the umbrella organisation, and in turn oblige this body to bring it to a worldwide association to achieve results with the exhibition organisers’ global umbrella organisation.
  • A new basis for partnership has to be created, in fairness and prosperity towards all stakeholders on both sides, large and small and in consideration of the interests of exhibition host countries and host locations and all based on sustainability.

Don’t think that I am an idealist and dreamer, but probably I am gifted with the foresight to warn before a situation is getting completely out of hand.

Yes, it needs the guts to do it and the true desire to master the future, amid hindrances, difficulties and possible repercussions. Apply your spirit and feelings, act now, individually and in groups! Tomorrow, it might be too late to make any changes at all! Don’t forget the motto: where there is a will, there is a force! Don’t think it is not worth it, think that even a drop can provoke an effect and initiate a lot! You help yourself, and your fellow company representatives will be encouraged to facilitate such decisions in order to become the new pack to be followed! And institutions such as an association depend on your membership! Base upon your judgements, financial means and decisions and jointly you will successfully climb the (unreachable?) mountains for the benefit of many!

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