Wheat from the chaff?

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Despite its obvious drawbacks, the recession offers opportunities for organisers able to exploit new technology and strong branding. To discuss how to make the most of our businesses in a weakened marketplace, 18 industry leaders gathered at the UFI congress in Zagreb at the third UFI CEO Think Tank; a forum set up to establish what is being done in response to the economic challenges. The think tank comprised organisers and representatives from 14 organisations, collectively organising 1,500 exhibitions and representing an annual turnover of more than €4 billion. Moderator and CEO of German consultancy JWC, Jochen Witt, says the economic squeeze has pushed organisers to “re-examine their business models, streamline their management structure and rationalise their event portfolios”. But, developing creative business models to meet the demands of exhibitors and visitors also has the unexpected advantage of creating new levels of loyalty among these audiences, he adds. While overall exhibition business profits decreased in 2009, cost-cutting measures allowed the industry to hold steady on most exhibitor costs. Global commercial director of Reed Exhibitions, Nick Forster, shares a view common among the think tank participants, that “recession gives you a chance to examine what’s sustainable.” "This is a time to reduce risk and exposure. But it’s also a time to seek new business opportunities through joint ventures and cooperative relationships." Geographically, the weakest industry results are currently being seen in Europe, North America, Japan, India, and Russia, while strong results were noted in China, Brazil and Turkey. However, in most cases organisers said that their leading trade fairs remained stable, or even exceeded expectations, regardless of their location. Generally speaking, trade fair success mimicked overall industry patterns with  negative results noted in sectors including automobile manufacturing and real estate, while positive results were found in exhibitions in the gas and energy sectors. To overcome adversity, think tank leaders highlighted targeted cost-cutting, headcount reductions and the negotiation of more flexible labour agreements. Many new build programmes have been delayed, while the industry continues to invest in staff training and information technology. Data management systems aimed at improving customer Relationship management and giving solid ROI feature heavily in most companies’ plans. Executive chairman of Belgium’s Artexis Group, Eric Everard, says: “This is a time to reduce risk and exposure. But it’s also a time to seek new business opportunities through joint ventures and cooperative relationships."Outgoing UFI president John Shaw summarised the group’s findings.“As a motor for commercial opportunities, the global exhibition industry will continue to play a key role in support of economic development in the future.”
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