The Year Trade Fairs Went Digital
Jörn Holtmeier, managing director of the Association of the German Trade Fair Industry (AUMA), discusses how the sector is coping with coronavirus restrictions.
How have AUMA members reacted to the pandemic restrictions?
Jörn Holtmeier: For most trade fairs, alternative digital formats were developed. They offered good opportunities to get in touch with potential partners. Some fairs developed hybrid formats to specially cater for foreign participants who couldn’t physically attend due to travel restrictions. However, it is inherently difficult to convince new customers of product quality using only digital and hybrid formats. For that reason, we are all working hard to help brick-and-mortar fairs resume as soon as possible.
Germany drew praise for its early handling of corona. To what extent did this translate into a competitive advantage for its trade fair industry?
Holtmeier: The relatively sound footing of the German economy certainly represents an advantage. Nevertheless, when our neighbors lack purchasing power and scale back investments due to the pandemic, fewer buyers will attend our trade fairs, and those who do come will have smaller purchasing budgets. In other words, cross-border stability is crucial.
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Coronavirus vaccines should become widely available this year. What could change for the sector?
Holtmeier: We think the situation won’t improve immediately. With or without a vaccine, we expect a consolidation of the trade fair business in Germany in 2021. However, that will be followed by a clear upward trend. This improvement will initially apply to the regional- and national-level fairs, with major international shows needing a bit longer. We are confident that the acceleration of digitalization, as well as German trade fairs’ recent investments in digital supplementation, will soon help them reclaim their strong standing in companies’ marketing mix.
What role do trade fairs play in making Germany more attractive to international players as a business hub?
Holtmeier: The internationalism of German trade fairs reflects the integration of the German economy with the rest of the world in terms of both exports and imports. Our trade fairs are not only about buying and selling but also long-term partnerships and investments. The high proportion of foreign participants facilitates robust third-country (non-EU) interaction: Spaniards do deals with Japanese, and African suppliers meet North American buyers.
Jörn Holtmeier took over as MD of AUMA in January 2020. He was previously with the Daimler Group, where he was deputy office manager for the company’s Office for Federal Affairs, with a focus on transport and the environment.
Tough Times for Trade Fairs
2020 was a difficult year for the 74 members of the Association of the German Trade Fair Industry (AUMA).
In April, the world-famous Hannover Trade Fair was canceled entirely amid the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic. Other major fairs had more time to prepare and were able to shift from on-site to online, setting up new digital platforms for showrooms, seminars and workshops. The healthcare industry fair MEDICA, for example, took place virtually with 1,500 exhibitors from 63 countries and proved a big hit, attracting 45,000 unique users and 400,000 page impressions. Seventy-eight percent of participants came from outside Germany – from 169 countries. The trend toward online is likely to continue in 2021.
Updates of current entry requirements for German trade fairs can be found at www.auma.de/en.