The status of trade fairs in Germany—a look at the current environment
LEIPZIG, Germany: It is no secret that the 39th edition of the International Dental Show (IDS) will look vastly different to previous iterations. The record 160,095 international visitors that attended IDS 2019 will be greatly reduced owing to COVID-19 travel restrictions, though a hybrid approach will mean more people than ever will participate virtually rather than in person. Nevertheless, there remains a high level of demand for physical trade fairs to return and for Germany to re-establish itself as the international leader in this field.
Let’s start with the good news. Presently, a majority of the German population has been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, significantly decreasing their likelihood of developing a symptomatic form of the disease. In addition, there exists an undeniable appetite for in-person trade fairs to return. A recent survey of its customers conducted by Messe Frankfurt, the world’s largest trade fair organiser, found that 97% still saw the in-person component as an essential part of such events.
For those who do travel to Cologne for in-person participation, comprehensive hygiene protocols and sanitation measures will be in place to offer exhibitors and visitors a safe exhibition experience. The wearing of face masks is mandatory, and people with COVID-19 symptoms—coughing, sniffles, loss of smell or taste, fever, etc.—are not allowed to enter the exhibition grounds.
In addition, Koelnmesse’s #B-SAFE4business concept—which was demonstrated as a prototype before the press late last year—includes a comprehensive catalogue of protective hygiene measures designed to reduce the risk of SARS-CoV-2 transmission. Personalised tickets and contactless identity checks and bag searches at the entrances will be available, while trained personnel will be present to ensure that all hygiene regulations can be easily observed and followed at each exhibitor’s stand. Visitors to IDS 2021 will also be required to install the eGuard mobile application, which is designed to guide visitors so that they can best avoid crowds and maintain appropriate social distancing.
Virtual participation a point of emphasis
Of course, travel restrictions and the limited availability of vaccines has meant that the Association of the German Dental Industry (VDDI) and Koelnmesse—the joint convenors of IDS—have had to make some key changes to how IDS 2021 can be experienced by those who cannot, or choose not to, attend in person. Chief among these is a hybrid approach powered by the free digital platform IDSconnect, which the organisers hope will make IDS 2021 a successful event online as well as offline.
“In tandem with the physical exhibition, IDSconnect will offer information on products and system solutions and will enable the streaming of webinars, press conferences, events and one-to-one conversations with clients,” Markus Oster, business unit manager of trade fair management at Koelnmesse, told DTI earlier this year. “This will facilitate a consistent international reach combined with a successful trade fair experience.”
The road to recovery
Five of the top ten highest-grossing trade fair companies are headquartered in Germany, and it is important to note just how severe the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has been on this industry. According to the Association of the German Trade Fair Industry (AUMA), just 114 of the 355 trade fairs planned in Germany in 2020 were able to take place, and this year, the first in-person congress was only held in June.
“Even if the first on-site trade fairs do not have the same dimensions and level of global internationality as in the past, the main thing is that we return to the scene as soon as possible” – Oliver Frese, Koelnmesse
The dearth of activity led to many leading trade fair facilitators suffering extensive financial losses, and AUMA stated that overall trade fair business in Germany fell by approximately 70% during 2020. Koelnmesse, for example, recorded a turnover of €94.3 million for the year—less than a quarter of the €413 million it generated in 2019. This, in turn, led the company to declare a net loss of €109.6 million for 2020, and it expects to incur sizeable losses once more in 2021.
Though IDS 2021 is expected to have around 830 companies from over 56 countries exhibiting, there are a number of notable absences that will undoubtedly be felt. Stalwarts, including Dentsply Sirona, Nobel Biocare and Ivoclar Vivadent, have elected not to participate this year. Walter Petersohn, chief commercial officer at Dentsply Sirona, explained that a major factor for his company’s withdrawal was the lack of the “absolute planning certainty” needed to prepare for such a show.
Regardless, there is a sense of optimism that surrounds IDS 2021 and what its success could mean for the future of trade fairs in Germany.
“Even if the first on-site trade fairs do not have the same dimensions and level of global internationality as in the past, the main thing is that we return to the scene as soon as possible,” said Oliver Frese, chief operating officer at Koelnmesse, at a press conference in May.
“In recent months, we have been even more dedicated than ever to developing hybrid and digital trade show experiences all the way through to a year-round online presence for our trade fair brands,” he added.