Wrap up of the 79th UFI Congress in Abu Dhabi

Last week, I attended the UFI Congress in Abu Dhabi, UAE. For those of you who don’t know, UFI is a global exhibition association. It has more than 600 members from 85 countries and has strict guidelines for membership.

I immediately noticed that both attendee profiles and content quality were quite similar to our own U.S.-based SISO CEO Summit.

The second thing I noticed was the friendliness and openness of the group.

The third? About 20 people out of almost 500 attendees were tweeting – right in line with global statistics of executives in non-tech sectors. Still, it was a pretty impressive uptick from 2011 – triple the number of tweeters and double the amount of tweets.

From the Congress’ theme—“Where is the Growth Coming From?”—there were three ideas that stuck with me:
1. Growth stems from offering more than square meters. Both Eric Ly and Jochen Witt mentioned this in their separate presentations. If we’re only providing space in a hall we are NOT doing our job and helping our industries grow.

2. Out of 899 UFI approved events (they are audited and meet specific criteria), only 10 are in the U.S. Ten. The bulk of the U.S. expo industry is not doing itself any favors by ignoring the global trend of auditing shows. We expect it for magazines and websites for ads, and our exhibitors are going to start demanding transparency in our show statistics.

3. Tradeshows are not provocative enough, according to Dr. Peter Cochrane. Are we challenging our industries to be better? Encouraging innovation besides having a “new product showcase”? Bringing in thought and industry disruptors, and giving them a platform to showcase their ideas? Is there any planned drama at our events or are they, in a word, boring?

Summary of the Sessions:
Hamish McRae, chief economics officer of The Independent in London, kicked things off with an optimistic view of the future. It was first time in about three years I can remember an economist being positive – usually when economic experts address a group of exhibition CEOs, we all want to immediately head to the bar and begin drinking heavily. Of course, that presupposes that the EU, specifically Greece and Spain, don’t fall into the abyss.

Eric Ly, co-founder of LinkedIn and CEO of Presdo spoke on social media and expos. For those of you attending the upcoming IAEE Expo!Expo! next month in Orlando, he and Rick Calvert from Blogworld/New Media Expo will be dishing on the subject.

The first day ended with H.E. Ali Saeed Bin Harmal Al Dhaheri, Managing Director, Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre (ADNEC) discussing Abu Dhabi investing $136 billion over nine years to become a premier tourism, biz destination. Yes, that was a “b”. It appears that the official bird of the Emirates is the crane – the building craze is very much like Beijing and Shanghai five years ago.

The next day, Dr. Peter Cochrane, OBE, CEO & Chairman, Cochrane Associates, UK, gave us a vision of “Industry 2.0”. As a futurist, many in the audience said he was thought provoking. We’ll just say it wasn’t my particular cup of tea. While technology is great, we still must deal with the human factor – especially in our business. When organizers only deal in numbers, their shows clearly suffer (Comdex anyone?).

I did agree with his statement: “Tradeshows are not provocative enough.” (See above for my thoughts)

Next up was an interesting panel on sustainability led by Paul Woodward, managing director of UFI. Sustainability is NOT just about being green. It’s about what we can do as an industry to help make the world a better place. For example, Michael Duck, EVP, UBM Asia, spoke about his company’s global sponsorship of NGO events (non-governmental organizations, ie: charities). This series of free events enables NGOs to network; share best practices; raise their profile and build partnerships with businesses. Venues, suppliers and UBM partner and contribute. Past Summits have been held in India, Brazil, the UK – and one in Anaheim is scheduled for May 1-2, 2013.

Moderator of the Congress, Rashid Toefy, CEO of Cape Town International Convention Center, discussed giving extra or left over product, food and other goods from expos to local towns and charities, as well as encouraging their staff to give of their time. As he said: “Sustainability is much more than being green. It’s a reinvestment in people, community and activism.” Lastly, Ids Boersma, managing director of exhibitions for Amsterdam RAI, discussed their ongoing and award winning green efforts.

John Shaw, CEO of Comité de Expositions de Paris, discussed several UFI reports. One particularly interesting fact was that two-thirds of UFI members went through the recent economic crisis relatively unscathed. (I was scratching my head too, but then realized that many UFI members have shows in multiple countries and regions.)

Last up was Jochen Witt, President & CEO of jwc GmbH in Cologne, Germany, who offered an amazing prediction of the 2013 global exhibition industry, region by region. Based on a number of indicators and input from many of the UFI members, Exhibition World said it best in a tweet: “Jochen Witt is always a big close at the UFI Congress. It takes something special to make sobering economic reports this compelling.”

My favorite bit of news: Mexico is the new sweet spot for manufacturing and is challenging China. Five years ago, wages in Mexico were five times higher, now they’re just 29 percent higher, as China’s wages have grown.

Personal note: After producing many tradeshows in many sectors in Mexico in the 1980s through 2002, it was interesting to hear. Those organizers who have not done business there may want to consider it.

All in all, it was a long way to travel for a short amount of time – but worth the effort.

What’s the best conference you’ve been to in the last year and why?

Stephanie S. Selesnick, CEM, is President of International Trade Information, Inc.,and a longtime global exhibition industry specialists helping U.S. show organizers increase international participation in their exhibitions and clone shows overseas. You can follow her on Twitter at @stephselesnick.

Stephanie S. Selesnick is president of International Trade Information, a longtime global exhibition industry specialist helping U.S show organizers increase international participation in their exhibitions and a well-known speaker and trainer. Follow her on Twitter @stephselesnick.  ... View all articles by Stephanie Selesnick →