16 December 2021
16 December 2021, Comments Comments Off on Michael Degen and Stefan Koschke
Michael Degen and Stefan Koschke

The Caravan Salon remains a point of reference

The problems related to the pandemic and the growth of virtual shows have not affected the value of a fair where the public and industry professionals can meet and see the new products. We have discussed this situation with the managers of the Messe Düsseldorf, Stefan Koschke and Michael Degen

Words Antonio Mazzucchelli – photo Enrico Bona

Michael Degen, Executive Director Trade Fairs of Messe Düsseldorf says that the Caravan Salon is a very important fair in the panorama of events that take place each year at the Düsseldorf exhibition centre. He also confirmed that although the pandemic created difficulties, the exhibition centre coped well. Degen is sure of one thing: people have the desire to meet and touch the products with their own hands. Despite this, Stefan Koschke, Project Director Caravaning & Outdoor of Messe Düsseldorf, explained to us that the Caravan Salon also introduced virtual presentations as a necessary step to meet the professional people who are unable to travel due to the pandemic, particularly those who usually come from America , Asia and Australia. The Messe Düsseldorf is continuing with a digital transformation, but there will also be no shortage of investment in expanding and modernizing the exhibition spaces. They both agreed that the formula of the annual fair remains a winning one.


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.


Aboutcamp BtoB: How is the Caravan Salon going, and what feedback have you had from exhibitors?
Stefan Koschke: We have had really good feedback; exhibitors are happy, visitor numbers are good, and the quality of visitors is good, so that makes the exhibitors happy. Everyone on the fairground is laughing and enjoying meeting people again, not only on a B2C level, but also on a B2B level.

Aboutcamp BtoB: Without visitors coming from outside Europe, many of the component manufacturers have more limited business opportunities. Have you thought of a complementary strategy to compensate for this situation, such as digital events?
Stefan Koschke: Our Technology Days were conceived because it was not clear if people from North America, Australia and Asia could or could not come to the Caravan Salon. Unfortunately, it was not possible to come from Australia, and difficult to come from Asia and North America, so the idea to offer exhibitors the possibility to present their product news in a video session to different markets was very good. Lots of companies decided to do this, even though it was a risk to do something new, but they were very open to doing it.
Our main idea was that two years of people not travelling destroys contacts, so we wanted to bring them together again. This is an important point for us and it’s also a chance for us in the future to have additional scenes for people who cannot travel and give them the possibility to present and make contacts. For the first time we had a matchmaking tool for the Caravan Salon and it’s perfect as you can have these sessions for people in different time zones. The Matchmaking tool, after the presentations, is the best possible way to bring people together. This was a major new idea and we hope it works and creates business. We wanted to show what people missed as they didn’t come.

Aboutcamp BtoB: Many camper and caravan manufacturers already have all production sold out until the end of next year. Why is it still important for them to participate in the Caravan Salon?
Stefan Koschke: Of course it’s important to take part and show to potential customers what they are offering and what the latest news and innovations there are. This is a really important part of a trade fair, and for consumers, the biggest advantage is being able to see so much in one place, rather than driving hundreds of kilometers to different dealers. So, one reason to participate in the Caravan Salon is to show the consumers what they want, and on the other side, the exhibitors have their only chance to show their complete portfolio. A lot of new people are coming into this sector and want to buy vehicles, so now is the time to present brands to them, so it’s even more important than in previous years to be here and present yourself and your products.

Aboutcamp BtoB: The Erwin Hymer Group has made a strategic decision to participate in German caravanning fairs every two years and would like the fairs to be biennial. I guess you think differently ... why do you think it is important that the Caravan Salon remains an annual event?
Stefan Koschke: There are many reasons: there is a production cycle, so people want to see new products every year; it’s very important that you can see new products live, rather than online as people will not buy it if they can’t see it, feel it, and go in it. So, it’s very important to have annual shows and, of course, there is also the situation where the exhibitors are sold out, but there is still the potential to buy next years models. You miss a lot of customers if you have no contact with them and a trade fair is the best place to have this contact in a good mood and be together in a good way. With 90% of all visitors being end consumers, they want a show every year and that’s why we are doing this together with exhibitors, to create business for them. That’s why we think it makes perfectly sense to have it every year. The Caravan Salon is an important part of sales strategies, so the producers need it and ask us for it. That’s why we did it last year during the difficult times with the coronavirus, because the exhibitors also wanted it.

Aboutcamp BtoB: There is also a marketing purpose for the Caravan Salon. You have a budget to do activities with the CIVD to help the industry grow and spread the culture of the open air tourism.
Stefan Koschke: Yes that’s right. Caravan Salon is a very important marketing tool for the industry. In particular, it is possible to address new visitor target groups at the trade fair, and this leads to caravanning becoming even more popular among all levels of society.