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Adapt for the future

————Interview with Craig Newman, UFI President 2018-2019

What do you think are the highlights of the UFI Asia-Pacific Conference this year?

Newman:This is the 14th time that the UFI Asia-Pacific Conference will take place, but it’s the first time in its history that it will be held in Tokyo (Japan). We are expecting over 250 industry professionals from many different countries for two days of intensive networking and learning. This year’s theme is ‘Facing the Future’, so we will be discussing the future direction of our industry. It is too hard to pick just one speaker to recommend from the line-up, so I’d recommend checking them all out if you can! The whole programme can be found at: http://ufievent.org/tokyo2019/programme.

As UFI President, what will be your top priorities in 2019 to move the industry forward?

Newman:The exhibition industry is currently facing various challenges. The state of the economy in home markets, internal competition, and global economic developments all remain issues for our industry, as demonstrated in the latest UFI Global Barometer survey. Consumer behaviour is constantly evolving, requiring us to constantly update our business models. However, my priority for 2019 is to see these challenges as opportunities where possible. Our whole industry will, as always, have to adapt and offer new benefits to succeed.

Venues are important MICE facilities. How do you think that venues can constantly stay relevant in the industry and to their customers?

Newman:If you take a look at UFI’s excellent “World Map of Venues”, you’ll see there’s a lot of growth and investment in global venue development. As a venue CEO myself, I know all too well that, once you have built your venue, you must work hard to keep it fit for business. We have to constantly evolve our venue to cater to the changing wishes and requests from organisers and exhibitors.

A well-educated team is equally important for success. This is why I keep pushing for UFI to deliver great education, as we do with the Venue Management School in Shanghai (which incidentally will be on again later this year!)

While representing the entire global MICE industry, you also focus on your original roots – the African Continent. What are the opportunities in this region?

Newman:Africa is an important continent in the global exhibition industry. As we heard at our Congress in 2017 in Johannesburg, African economies strive to develop industries, such as tourism and raw materials processing, and trade fairs play a crucial role in this. We have a young population, as well as the potential for sustained economic growth, and the continent is fast becoming a significant global economy.

In South Africa, we also have a successful and seasoned exhibitions industry. We have hosted excellent international exhibitions over the last few years, especially business-to-business events. We also have some of the oldest exhibitions on the continent, such as the Rand Show, which will be hosted for the 125th time next year. This goes to show that South Africa is the corridor into Africa for the exhibition and events industry. We have the expertise and the knowledge to lead the rest of the continent in this industry. Our continent is not a “dark continent” anymore – it is turning into a bright light of opportunity.

Generally speaking, do you perceive any fundamental trends in the MICE industry over the next three to five years?

Newman:The UFI team puts together a list of the top five trends to watch every year, and I completely agree with them. There is the economic trend with shifting trade patterns and a jittery global economy, as amidst a climate of political tension, protectionism and fake news globally, economic growth is slowing down. The US/China tariffs alone are calculated to reduce global economic growth by 0.4% in the long term. Even without this additional burden, growth has become difficult to sustain, especially in the mature exhibition markets. CEIR data shows that, in the US alone, our industry has seen below-par growth compared to the US economy as a whole in seven out of the last eight quarters.

There is also our industry’s response to digitisation. Today, digital is everywhere – but it is not everything. As show brands around the world increasingly communicate digitally with their customers and communities all year round, data operations will be as relevant as show floor operations. Organisers and venues alike are well advised to never forget to deliver excellence in terms of the basics, as visitor pain points are surprisingly simple. The top five are: seating, catering, queuing, parking, and quality of the exhibitors.

Consolidation and collaboration will continue – and rewrite parts of our industry’s code. The mix of players in the industry remains varied: listed companies, publicly owned organiser/venue operator enterprises, family businesses, entrepreneurs and government bodies.

Driving diversity in leadership is equally important. If you look at the teams who deliver and grow exhibitions around the world, and who operate venues, you find a broad diversity of skills, nationalities, and qualifications. Slowly but surely, our industry is reflecting this in its leadership as well. We’ve seen a steady flow of senior appointments enriching the diversity of boardrooms over the past two years, adding new voices to the respective tables – most notably women, but also hires from outside the industry.

UFI Special


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