The Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom (FNF South Asia regional office) recently organised an online business dialogue called ‘Restart Asian Economics: The Comeback of Trade Fairs’. This online programme discussed the current situation in the trade fair industry worldwide and gave an outlook on the short-term restart and the longer-term effects of the Covid-19 pandemic with renowned international experts.

Waqar Rizvi, a sociopolitical analyst, was the moderator of this online programme. The panelists were Jochen Witt, President at JWC, Germany, Sambit Kumar Mund, Senior General Manager at Hyderabad International Trade Expositions LTD, India, and Shaira Saleem, Chairperson, Women Entrepreneurs Association, Maldives.

This online seminar started by discussing the importance of trade fairs. Moderator Waqar Rizvi asked panelist Jochen Witt if he could shine some light on this discussion.

“I often hear that trade fairs are about bringing supply and demand together. That is true but there is so much more to it,” said Jochen Witt. He also added that it is a platform for innovation and productivity. “This is a place where companies come together and exchange ideas and new innovations. This way they learn from each other. At the same time, it is a platform to create partnerships. If you have a local trade show where there are international participants, it will generate various sorts of partnerships like sales, distribution or maybe production partnerships. So trade fairs are definitely important.”

Coming to the topic of virtual trade shows, Waqar Rizvi asked Sambit Kumar Mund, “On the issue of virtual versus in-person or even hybrid trade shows, what are your thoughts about all these options?”

Sambit Kumar Mund said digital trade shows are ‘not going anywhere so soon’. “Physical exhibitions are sure to bounce back as we in India are most likely to start ours next January. However, for the conference part it will surely remain hybrid. For the recent technological developments, it has greatly affected the big conference part more than the exhibition. Currently our exhibition part it’s not growing on an international level but it is more of an exchange between domestic exhibitors and visitors.”

“As for the pandemic situation, there are border rules and different sorts of Covid-19 vaccine restrictions imposed by other countries. Do we have to accept some form of a hybrid function of trade fairs until we have open borders?” Waqar Rizvi asked Jochen Witt.

Jochen Witt replied that unless this problem was solved, more domestic trade shows would take place where the participants will be region based. He added that the digitalization part would stay. “It will stay for many regional based industries but it will not stay in a way what we call digital events. We in JWC call it ‘Omni-channel platforms’ where digital and face to face is part of one integrated offer. It’s a 365 days offer where there’s a chance to compensate for the losses of exhibitors or visitors side because digital has a much broader reach.”

Discussing the issues of tourism industry Waqar Rizvi wanted to know from Shaira Saleem, her thoughts on the state of Maldives tourism in the next 6 months, and the importance for Maldives to get its word out about tourism and other industries.

“Right now we are doing quite well but we don’t really know what is going to happen in the next 6 months. Most of our resorts and tourist destinations are full, so there are no issues on that. As for getting the word out, I think attending international trade fairs will create more opportunities for us and that way we will be able to generate new ideas from different companies and business enterprises”, said Shaira Saleem.

“Safety measures for face to face trade shows are a huge issue regarding the pandemic situation. Have medical booths, thermal testing, sanitation availability, rapid PCR testing,etc.types of infrastructure been a hurdle for you?” Waqar Rizvi asked Sambit Kumar Mund.

Sambit Kumar Mund replied that India has been somewhat successful in keeping the exhibition venues safe from the coronavirus. “In India all the major venues follow the safety guidelines provided by the global body of trade fairs. In every major venue, we are trying to make sure that the guidelines strictly followed by the exhibitors and the visitors. In our venue, we are taking care of the safety issues and we can provide with all sorts of Covid-19 safety infrastructure as well as other venues. So for us, it has been quite successful.”

Trade fairs are a very powerful marketing medium. They bring together thousands of international buyers and sellers in one place in a short space of time. Therefore, the re-emerging of the exhibition industry can enormously contribute to the South Asian economy.