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UFI European Conference looks to the future for organisers

by Paul Colston

Global exhibition industry association UFI gathered 300 participants from 30 countries to its European Conference 2019.

The event, held at the NEC on 15-17 May, saw a mix of speakers from inside and outside the business events address the theme of ‘The Organisers’ Future: Challenging Business Models’.

“Sessions and conversations among our industry’s leaders from Europe and around this week have clearly shown that organisers are evolving and expanding both their strategies as well as their geographical presences, entering into new markets and business areas. UFI is always working on sharing trends and developments. Holding our European Conference in the UK in Birmingham this year also allowed the UFI community to get ‘up to speed’ on political developments around Brexit and the upcoming European elections,” said UFI Managing Director/CEO Kai Hattendorf.

The conference was opened by keynote speakers Robert Peston, political editor, ITV  and Nick de Bois, former chief of staff to the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union and chairman of the Events Industry Board (UK). They provided a compelling overview of the current political scene in the UK and looked at some possible scenarios and consequences of Brexit for the exhibition industry.

De Bois said that Brexit must mean the UK opening up beyond its immediate neighbours and envisaged: “A global Britain looking to succeed.” He underlined that the UK economy was equal in size to that of 10 of the existing EU countries and that 80 per cent of MPs had agreed to implement Article 50.

Peston noted that, “Whatever happens, we have to have a decent relationship with the EU.”

Eric Everard, CEO and founder of Easyfairs (Belgium), shared his experience in a session entitled ‘Launch, clone, acquire’ on how to succeed in the exhibition industry, and revealed his expertise on how to plan for the future.

Eugen Alles, managing director, Messe Frankfurt RUS OOO (Russia) and Vasily Grudev, chairman of Belt and Road Initiative Russian Committee (Russia) talked about opportunities in Russia – China – One Belt One Road (OBOR) – highlighting opportunities for organisers to benefit from government initiatives like this programme. Grudev used the example of Chinese porcelain exports throughout the centuries as a powerful metaphor for the importance of trade for all nations along the old Silk Route.

A panel involving US organisers looking to grow their business outside of their home market, included Mary Larkin, Executive Vice-President, Diversified Communications; Cassandra Farrington, Co-Founder and CEO, Marijuana Business Daily; and Dianna Steinbach, Vice-President, International Services for ISSA. They all discussed the opportunities and challenges they encounter.

Katie Crocombe, director, 52eight3 Limited (UK) and Adam Parry, director, Event Tech Live, Event Industry News presented some of the latest applications of innovative technology, while Denzil Rankine, executive chairman, AMR International, outlined how organisers can move to ‘Exhibition 2.0’ as a way to keep events highly relevant and to improve their performance.

All talks will be made available to UFI members in the coming days in the member section of the UFI website.

Prior to the conference, UFI had held an UFI Operations and Services Forum, a two-day event for professionals in operations focusing on areas of logistics, security, safety, navigation and mobility, with industry specialists from a dozen countries attending.

In parallel, a packed one-day Digital Innovation Forum looked at how to implement the right digital innovation strategy, focusing on new solutions and sharing best practice examples from leading organisers like Reed and ITE.

The UFI European Conference also featured the association’s regular leadership meetings  as well as a multitude of gatherings of UFI’s working groups.

The UFI Board elected Anbu Varathan to be the association’s 2020/21 President. Varathan is director general & CEO of the Indian Machine Tool Manufacturers’ Association (IMTMA), organiser of the IMTEX exhibitions. He is also the chief executive officer of the Bangalore International Exhibition Centre (BIEC).

Other onsite activities included a tour of the The NEC venue, and the UFI Running Club.

There was also a welcome reception for all delegates at the VOX, a dinner at Warwick Castle, as well as city tours.
The UFI European Conference 2020 will take place in Gothenburg, Sweden, 13-15 May 2020, and will be hosted by Svenska Mässan.

L-R: Nick Dugdale-Moore, UFI Regional Manager for Europe; Robert Peston, Political Editor, ITV (UK) ; Nick de Bois, Special adviser and former Chief of Staff to the Secretary for Existing the European Union.

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