The event industry is one of the industries that has been hit hardest by COVID-19. When looking at the international trade shows for example, since the pandemic, their turnover has been zero, all looking forward to the solution that may allow physical exhibitions to take off again, namely a vaccine. We had a talk with Dick van Raamsdonk of HPP exhibitions, who has been organising horticultural trade fairs all over the world for 35 years now. Apart from the year after the 9/11 attacks in 2001, they haven't had such a huge financial setback as they are dealing with this year. However, over the last months, they haven't sat still and just finalized their 2021 exhibition calendar. "We are ready to kick off again as soon as a vaccine is available on the market."
Dick van Raamsdonk at the Agriflor 2018 held in Quito (Ecuador), click here for the photo report.
The impact of COVID-19
With their last event, IFTF, being rescheduled to 2021, it has been a year without any shows for HPP. It isn't something that has occurred before on this scale, but economic challenges aren't unknown, as the 9/11 attacks for example impacted the international exhibition industry heavily also, explains van Raamsdonk. "On the day itself, September 11, 2001, we were in New York City building World Floral Expo. Of course we had to cancel the show, but the consequences afterwards were much larger - not as large as they are now, but hardly anyone dared to travel anymore for a long time. In the year that followed, we did have exhibitions, but attendance was very low. The situation is completely different now, but in the end, the year after 9/11 was also a year with a huge economic setback for us as an international exhibition organizer, comparable now with e.g. the restaurant industry during Covid-19 which is operating, but barely being able to pay the bills.
Increased importance of physical exhibition
Over the last months, trade fairs all over the world have been cancelled, one after another. There have been some initiatives trying to fill the gap, but you just simply can’t replace it by something similar. The 2 key elements of what generally is understood as a trade exhibition, is being able to have physical communication and physical presence of the product. Being able to speak and see each other in person, and touching, seeing and smelling the product are essential and basic ingredients that are needed, van Raamsdonk says. And the importance of trade exhibitions is something van Raamsdonk sees increasing for many years now. "The more digital the world becomes, the more need there is to see and speak to people in person. An exhibition has a much broader function besides doing business and gaining info. It maybe even much more the social aspect at a show that matters. People want to see and talk face to face with each other, and since the digitalisation of the world, I have only seen the importance and need of trade fairs increasing. And in that sense, and please don’t get me wrong, but we as exhibition organisers might be even lucky, as people are even more eager to see each other again since Corona. When it will be possible again to organise exhibitions, I mean when a vaccine has been found, I expect the aisles to be as full or maybe even fuller than they used to be, adhering to all measures, of course", he laughs.
Over the last months, the team at HPP exhibitions did not twiddle their thumbs. "Of course, we were still busy with the preparations for IFTF 2020, but when we even had to reschedule our only ‘home game’, we were set already as it was our 'Plan B'. On top of that, we finalized the entire 2021 schedule, expecting that things will be able to happen again next year. A vaccine will be needed though, but fortunately, it looks like several are coming up relatively soon. Till then, we will depend on how the situation regarding the pandemic will develop. But once the skies will clear up, we will be (more than) ready."
What exhibitions will HPP have in the pipeline for 2021? See the schedule below and click here to learn more about each exhibition.
- Myanmar HortiFair 2021 – Feb 19-21 – Yangon, Myanmar
- HortiFlora Expo 2021 – March 24-26 – Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
- IFTEX 2021 – June 2-4 – Nairobi, Kenya
- HortiFlor Expo 2021 – Sept. 14-16 – Harare, Zimbabwe
- World Floral Expo 2021 – September 22-24 – New York, NY, USA
- AgriFlor 2021 – Oct. 4-6 – Quito, Ecuador
- IFTF 2021 – Nov. 3-5 – Vijfhuizen, Holland
Van Raamsdonk expects that 2021 will be a bit kinder to them and therefore their primary vision is that all exhibitions will continue. But what if an exhibition can still not be held? "If an exhibition cannot be held, we will have no other choice than to reschedule it again for a different date later in the year or the year after. Physical exhibitions is what we do and where we believe in, and by being prepared at all times, we can kick off any exhibition, at any time”.
Corona crisis is an entrepreneurial risk
The world is still in an economic lockdown and as long as there is no vaccine available, organising international exhibitions will be a challenge. "But the corona crisis I still consider as an entrepreneurial risk. Of course as organizers, we do everything within our power to minimize this risk for ourselves, but also for our exhibitors. Reason why, for all our 2020 exhibitions that had to be rescheduled, we offered to all our 2020 exhibitors a spot in the next edition. Of course we took the loss and although this should not last for many years more, we are pleased to be able to do so. The IFTF 2021, for example, is therefore already 65% booked. We just all want to get back to normal, and the only real normal, which is the old normal, and ASAP!"
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