Aboutcamp BtoB: Once again, the Caravan Salon confirmed itself as a trade fair of great importance, even during a pandemic. But how important is it in the range of trade fair events at the Messe Düsseldorf?
Michael Degen: The Caravan Salon is very important. We host two major shows for the leisure industry, the Caravan Salon and the Boat Show. These are particularly important shows for us when it comes to gaining popularity with the general public because they are very specific for the relevant industry. Sometimes, we have other shows which are important for specific industries, but none are as well-known as the Caravan Salon and the Boat Show. Everyone knows exactly what’s going on at these shows, and that’s important. We like to have that kind of popularity. We need everyone’s support.
Aboutcamp BtoB: It is clear that trade fairs are experiencing a period of great transformation. On the one hand, the pandemic has led to the temporary suspension of many events, but on the other hand communications in general are changing, for BtoC and BtoB. What is your opinion of this - starting from the difficult period that you have faced due to Covid: how did you react and how have you been affected in terms of attendance?
Michael Degen: If there is any good news at all as a result of the pandemic, then it is probably that, after 18 months, we have found out that people want to meet in person again. They are tired of being on remote web sessions. Everyone tells us, “I’m starved of personal face to face communication!”. At least this is a positive result - and, of course, very important for our business.
Over the last 25 years, we’ve always been confronted with the question: now that there is internet, will people still need trade shows? It turns out that over the last 25 years, trade shows are really relevant for everyone and especially for those industries where it’s very important to find out about a product. For example, you can’t make a decision about buying a new caravan or a vehicle when you haven’t seen it and touched it. Another example is a wine show: how can you judge the quality of a wine if you don’t taste it? So, yes, at the moment it’s been the worst experience we can have as a trade show organizing company, but we still feel optimistic for the future and that there will be a comeback. Most industry people want to meet face to face. We used to have international teams coming to meet at shows in Dusseldorf; for example, Australian buyers would meet their Canadian suppliers here in Dusseldorf, but we are not sure if this will still be the case over the next five to 10 years. Maybe there is a change in the trade business where the relevance of the regional shows is increasing, but we have an answer for that: All in Caravanning in China is a good example where we go to the markets with these shows... we don’t expected that every Chinese person or company interested in caravanning will come to Dusseldorf, so we go there and take the industry to them.
Aboutcamp BtoB: When the Covid pandemic is over, will everything return to the way it was before? Or will exhibition companies have to face changes? Were there already any signs of changes before Covid? Will fairs have to find new management and communication strategies to survive?
Michael Degen: We have discussions and processes for when it comes to the influence of digital technology. Over the last five to six years we have been forcing the digital transformation process at the Messe Dusseldorf, and the influence of digital technology on the business, with face to face communication as the base for everything. But, of course, we have to create technology and some kind of support for customers and clients on the visitor side and the exhibitor side. The best example of this is a process that matches our web page for every show. In the period before the show starts you are able to find out which exhibitors you want to see, and also make an appointment between the two of you: Every trade show organizer is trying to gain relevance for the industry all year round, not only for the five or 10 days of the exhibition itself. At any time of the year you can go on the web page of the Caravan Salon, for example, when you need some specific industry news, so in a way it is a bit like the media industry. This is software that we already had in progress before the Covid situation.
Aboutcamp BtoB: If there are going to be any changes: what kind of fairs will change the most and which will continue more or less the same as today? What differences will there be between them in terms of the type of products, audiences they are targeting, and catchment areas?
Michael Degen: I believe this is all part of the Covid situation; if you have the best trade show that’s the biggest and most relevant for the industry, everyone agrees that “this is my main event”. We probably have some shows where we can expand the offering; for example, we have caravans and tourism, and at a certain point you have the chance to say: I have 200,000 visitors at the caravan show, why am I not including other elements of the leisure industry, such as boats, for example. But that’s very dangerous, as although you might find exhibitors interested in having contact with 200,000 visitors, this would lead to a situation where the visitors, and then the exhibitors, would not be happy because it’s too wide an offering. At least people are coming to the Caravan Salon to find out about caravans and vehicles, and that’s the base for its success. In the short term there is always the possibility to expand the exhibition space and the financial results, but we have to concentrate on the focus of our visitors.
Aboutcamp BtoB: Which countries is Messe Düsseldorf investing in to develop the exhibition market, and which are the most promising?
Michael Degen: The most important is, of course, Asia and China. Historically, it was Russia, where 60 years ago, Messe Dusseldorf was the very first western trade show organizing company to go to Moscow. But, over the last 15 years, the Chinese market has the strongest relevance for us, and once we are in the position to have the leading, number one trade shows worldwide, we will try to export that concept to reach and set up certain live events in the main markets, such as China, India, Russia, Brazil or South America.
Aboutcamp BtoB: Messe Dusseldorf recently invested in new halls: would you make that decision again now after the heavy financial blow caused by the pandemic?
Michael Degen: Obviously we would probably have to make a slightly different decision now, but, on the other hand, we strongly believe in the long term existence of the trade show business. We take a long term perspective, so we need to modernize and set-up our business to save it for the next 30 years or longer.
Aboutcamp BtoB: What investments are you planning for the future?
Michael Degen: In strategic terms, we invest all the time in the service we provide, plus we invest in the digital transformation process for the digital world of today. Our investment in the halls will not be finished as long as trade shows are still relevant.