Like most industries, the dental industry has been severely affected by the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic. The entire European and international economy are facing an enormous recession. Despite the difficult current circumstances, the Association of the German Dental Industry (VDDI) has a positive outlook eight months before the International Dental Show (IDS). Dental Tribune International spoke with Chairman of the Board Mark Stephen Pace about the current situation in the industry and the ongoing preparations for IDS, which is scheduled to take place as planned from 9 to 13 March 2021 in Cologne in Germany.
Mr Pace, what is your assessment of the current situation in the dental industry?
The deep recession caused by the SARS-CoV-2 crisis has hit all economic sectors extremely hard, and the dental industry is no exception. Nevertheless, there are crucial differences, as it forms an essential part of the healthcare industry. The crisis shows that people are prepared to abstain from a lot of things; however, they will not compromise their health.
The SARS-CoV-2 threat has increased awareness of the importance of health among broad sections of the population. After the phase in which many treatments and operations were postponed and as the gradual easing of the situation continues, people are becoming aware again of other important health issues. This means that patients are now slowly catching up on treatments and check-ups that were postponed. A backlog of demand for treatment has built up and is now being gradually reduced, which of course cannot happen immediately. However, an improvement is expected to take place gradually.
Owing to fear of infection, many patients avoided visiting dental practices during the acute
SARS-CoV-2 phase. However, dental practices are among the most hygienic places, as they must meet the highest standards of hygiene and safety. Most dentists will have reviewed, updated and improved their hygiene protocols. Official dental professional bodies in many countries have convincingly explained this to their patients and have also explained that postponing preventive appointments and neglecting oral and dental health reduces the chances of diagnosing life-threatening diseases in the oral cavity.
We are part of the health industry, and we know that oral and dental health are closely and to a high degree linked to general health. We should stress this at every opportunity.
“Industry will take longer to return to pre-crisis sales levels”
Many dental companies―including large manufacturers―are struggling with the effects of the crisis. What is the general feedback from your members about the current state of the industry?
It is quite true that our dental industry has also been hit very hard by the SARS-CoV-2 crisis. The drop in demand from practices and laboratories is due to the lack of patient visits to practices, and curfews and restrictions have paralysed all sectors of the economy worldwide. As a result, our value and supply chains have been interrupted and, in some cases, even broken off. The consequences are significant declines in industrial sales, short-time work and further restrictions, for example those placed on events, seminars and continuing education.
However, many of our members have acted very flexibly and quickly. Digitalisation is also advancing with great strides in internal company processes. This improves the effectiveness and efficiency of companies. In addition, many providers have switched to digital instead of face-to-face events and have expanded them. Interest among customers has not diminished during the crisis, but rather increased. Many customers have inevitably had more time for online training than before.
Will the European dental industry have recovered by the end of 2021?
It will probably not happen that fast. Industry, by which I mean all industries, will take longer to return to pre-crisis sales levels. Nevertheless, we are already seeing encouraging signs in the dental industry.
The fields of activity of our dental industry cover a wide range of tasks―diagnosis, treatment and prevention of various diseases or other problems related to dental and periodontal tissue as well as supporting bone. Today, modern dentistry offers a wide range of treatments for maintaining or restoring oral health.
The growing number of elderly people around the world and the growing demand for cosmetic dental treatments, as well as the increase in dental procedures, are increasing the treatment options and applications for every type of medical need and aesthetic desire of patients.
Current global market reports from the dental industry show growth rates over the forecast period until 2023. For example, the dental market is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 7.6% in the coming years. According to the World Health Organization, 3.58 billion people worldwide were affected by dental diseases in 2016. The prevalence of oral cavity cancer and periodontal disease is driving demand for dental health services and thus the growth of the global dental industry. With these services, it is our duty and vocation to provide care to people around the world.
“In its present form, no serious business-to-business event will be able to take place anywhere in the world”
Since almost all dental trade fairs have been postponed or cancelled this year, the question arises as to whether IDS 2021 can be held in its present form as the world’s leading dental trade fair. Will there be any conceptual changes?
We are living in a new normality until a successful vaccine against SARS-CoV-2 has been developed. In its present form, no serious business-to-business event will be able to take place anywhere in the world. We are seeing how intensively trade fair companies are working on meeting all the requirements in order to be able to hold safe trade fairs. Naturally, all trade fairs are required to comply with the specific health and safety regulations and protective measures imposed by the respective governments and authorities. At the same time, we are working to maintain the character of IDS as a communication platform, a marketplace for innovations and the most comprehensive showcase for the global dental industry, even under the prevailing conditions. In collaboration with Koelnmesse, we are working to offer additional digital tools that complement and support the experience and communication services.
What particular precautions are you currently taking for IDS 2021?
The focus of a trade fair is on person-to-person contact. In order to make this networking as safe and successful as possible, Koelnmesse has developed a series of measures in accordance with the Coronavirus Protection Ordinance of the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia and in close collaboration with the authorities in Cologne, who regulate the interaction at the trade fair. The aim of the #B-SAFE4business concept is to ensure professional safety at the highest level and to create an environment in which industries and businesses can grow again. Koelnmesse has combined its measures aiming at ensuring the health of its exhibitors and visitors under the four themes SHOW SAFE, MEET SAFE, STAY SAFE and VISIT SAFE. These themes aim to regulate safe interaction at the trade fair and ensure that exhibitors and visitors can once again meet in a relaxed atmosphere. In this way, IDS offers sufficient opportunities and space to safely allow a large number of participants across the exhibition areas.
A further advantage here is the digital information and visitor guidance system. Generously planned stands ensure that minimum distances are observed, so that the number of visitors to a stand is not regulated as long as the minimum distance of 1.5 m is guaranteed. At the same time, suitable technical aids are used to monitor and, if necessary, control the distribution of trade fair participants and thus the flow of visitors. The security concept for the coming IDS also includes the fact that the ticket system will be limited exclusively to online tickets, as well as full registration of all participants in order to ensure the traceability of visitors. Koelnmesse will regularly review the security concept and adapt it to the current framework conditions.
I am confident that IDS 2021 will become the decisive kick-off for a new start after the SARS-CoV-2 crisis. The international industry is looking forward to IDS 2021 expectantly, as it will play a key role in successful crisis management, especially with regard to personal exchange of strategies in the various markets and regions. One’s own needs and positions can only be analysed and evaluated in direct dialogue with all market participants. This also applies to the realignment of value chains.
How do you see the international developments with regard to IDS 2021?
Here, I am rather confident too. I have gained the impression that many companies, even overseas ones, can’t wait to get started again. As is the case everywhere in business, a standstill in our industry also carries a high risk of a downturn. International competition continues despite the crisis. In my view, sitting back and waiting until the situation improves is not an option. After all, we do not know when or whether we will be able to return to the accustomed normality of the pre-SARS-CoV-2 period. Overseas exhibitors, like everyone else, will keep a careful eye on their investments in IDS presentations and will plan their resources carefully and adjust them for 2021.
After all, the 39th edition of IDS is still around eight months away, during which time many things can still develop positively. Ultimately, however, the decisive factor for visitor flows will be what the respective governments allow and grant their citizens in terms of travel options. It is possible that the SARS-CoV-2 crisis may not yet be overcome by March 2021, but it will certainly be easier to manage owing to the experience gained by all parties. But none of us can predict the future.
How many companies have registered so far?
Koelnmesse has currently received more than 1,300 registrations. From today’s perspective, eight months before the event, these are very good numbers. These are companies that have deliberately decided to participate in the 39th IDS in the midst of a difficult economic situation. Anti-cyclical action is one of the tools used in times of crisis to counter the competition and redistribute market share. We can see this as a signal of encouragement, confidence and future orientation. These companies see the crisis as an opportunity; they stand against pessimism and for optimism. Every single exhibitor has taken a good look at and calculated the cost–benefit ratio as with any investment. However, there are also companies that have decided against participating. This important business decision must be taken by each company individually—but it must be clear to everyone that the market is constantly reorienting and redistributing itself. We can be pleased that our IDS enjoys such a high level of trust and that the world’s leading trade fair offers great potential for our dental division of the healthcare industry even in times of crisis.
Do you expect a decline in the number of trade fair visitors from Germany and abroad owing to stricter hygiene regulations and fear of possible infections?
Yes, definitely fewer visitors will be able to attend, as there will probably continue to be travel restrictions in various parts of the world. It is also a personal decision whether or not one wants to exercise caution. But I don’t think that visitors will be deterred by hygiene and safety measures—on the contrary, all measures taken will guarantee exhibitors and visitors a maximum level of safety. As a health industry, we as manufacturers and users are used to high safety standards in our everyday work.
The positive thing is that we are part of the healthcare industry. Medical technology manufacturers and their customers from dental practices and dental laboratories are used to meeting the highest standards in the production, processing and application of materials and products. Exhibitors as well as visitors are familiar with hygiene and safety regulations. IDS 2021 will be different, the regulations of the health authorities will have changed quite a lot, but visitors will not have to overcome any threshold fear. We could even sharpen the profile of our industry as part of the healthcare industry, because the rules that apply in practice and in the laboratory will be continued at the trade fair.