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Sexpo organiser: Big events need big venues

by Murielle Gonzalez
Sexpo entrance
David Ross

David Ross, founder and organiser of Sexpo International

David Ross, the organiser of Sexpo – the health, sexuality, and adult lifestyle exhibition that launched in Australia in 1996 – has everything in place to stage a second outing of the event in the UK, but the venue.

Ross has reached out to ExCeL London to accommodate the show, but the company declined to play host to Sexpo UK. He has also been denied membership at the London Chamber of Commerce.

“ExCeL London receives a large number of event enquiries and considers each of these on a case-by-case basis. It was decided that on this occasion, we would not proceed with this particular enquiry,” Julia Galbraith, the venue marketing manager, told EN.

The first Sexpo UK was staged at Olympia London in November 2015. “Public transport problems associated with the coordinated terror events in Paris over the week meant that 40 per cent of those who had pre-purchased tickets online didn’t make it to the event,” Ross said. The organiser estimated that up to 40,000 Londoners would have attended that first event.

“We now hope to return to London in a large venue that can accommodate the sort of numbers we expect,” Ross commented.

Mainstream event

Ross explained that in the early years, he faced same difficulties with venues not understanding the mainstream nature of the event, and therefore knocking back his project.

Sexpo has grown internationally and is now attended by more than 250,000 people around the world each year. Following the launch of Sexpo Australia in 1996, it expanded to a national event. It is now hosted in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane and Perth. Sexpo has also been staged in the US, and South Africa.

In an exclusive interview with EN, Ross explained the economic impact of the exhibition and the reasons for choosing ExCeL to host the event.

Why it has to be ExCeL London? Have you considered other cities in the UK?
DR: ExCeL London is our only consideration, at this stage. Obviously, the population of London is attractive to us, plus the public transport infrastructure means we are not constrained by car parking availability. The lack of car parks at some venues have cost us tens of thousands of visitors at some venues over the years.

What dates are you aiming for?
DR: We are happy to work with ExCeL regarding available dates.

Would you bring your staff and suppliers or would you source from the UK for this event?
DR: We will be looking to employ a London-based team to work under my supervision. That way we can be assured that we will be able to put on the same quality show in London, as we do here in Australia. This is why we found it so strange the London Chamber of Commerce would Œblank us.

Avoid controversy

Ross said Sexpo was conceived as a way of showcasing adult products in a safe and friendly environment. He explained: “For that reason, we have only ever sort out major exhibition centres to hold the events. In some cases, it has taken us several years to convince the operators of such venues of the mainstream nature of the event.”

The Sexpo organiser believes ExCeL’s decision is arbitrary and that is an issue the international event has faced in the past but has overcome.

Sexpo entrance

Photo credit Matt Bartolo

“I personally lobbied the Board of the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre [MCEC] in early 1997 after they refused us tenancy,” Ross told EN. “I put together a 3-minute video (yes, video in those days), along with various other supporting documentation from our first event in 1996 and sat outside a board meeting and waited for it to finish beforehand delivering the presentation to each (MCEC) board member.

“Not too much later our booking was accepted and the 1997 event was the first to be held in a major venue. This was the turning point for our start-up business.”

Sexpo has occupied up to 12,000 sq m at the MCEC every year since. “Similarly, ICC in Sydney has previously refused us tenancy, only to reverse its position,” Ross pointed out.

Profitable show

“Sexpo is a million-pound show,” Ross said. “Costing that to stage each and every event. More than 90 Sexpo events have been staged around the world since 1996. So, yes, Sexpo is big business.”

Ross also noted that given the budget he deals with, the event needs to attract many tens of thousands of visitors to cover the costs. “That is the reason why Sexpo needs to be mainstream. Our marketing and promotions are designed so as to not cause contention; we never court controversy,” he explained.

Ross also revealed that the Melbourne show has been one of the most profitable events. “Our best ever pre-tax profit was around AUD 500,000 [£282,000],” Ross told EN. “It should be noted that our best [footfall] was in Melbourne with 68,000 [people] when we had a population of just three million. Obviously, numbers have come back since then, but given this, I believe London is good for 60-70,000 visitors for at least the first 10 years.”

International event

Sexpo is now attended by more than 250,000 people around the world each year. “The setting is open and public, eliminating any sense of ‘seedy’ that other adult venues may display,” Ross said.

Sexpo Australia

Sexpo Australia. Photo credit Matt Bartolo

Ross is convinced that Sexpo is a big business and it needs a big venue. In a move to get ExCeL London to reconsider his proposal, he has launched a campaign at Change.org to get the backing of the British people.  “We are asking that Londoners sign our petition at Change.org so we can demonstrate to all venues the level of public support for Sexpo,” he explained.

The campaign at Change.org has received a positive feedback from Londoners. Supporters’ reason for signing the petition varies from finding the event fun and educational to those who have pointed out the fact that ExCeL had hosted exhibitions with an adult-focus in the past.

EN asked Olympia London and the NEC to comment on whether they would accommodate the event, but these venues have not yet replied to our press enquiry.

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