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Interview: "Live experience instead of remote work": there will be exhibitions again after the pandemic

Aug 24, 2020

We spoke with Eugen Alles, who has been the head of the Messe Frankfurt branch in Russia for many years, about the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the industry, promising exhibition venues in Russia and the development of the exhibition business after the pandemic.


Mr. Alles, how long has Messe Frankfurt been working in Russia?

We started our business in Russia in 1998 in St. Petersburg, not in Moscow like most of our competitors. The idea was to organize an auto parts exhibition in St. Petersburg in addition to the already existing automotive event - the St. Petersburg Auto Show. At that time, we had already successfully held the world's largest auto parts exhibition Automechanika, and wanted to bring this brand to Russia as well. This event started the history of Messe Frankfurt RUS as a company, which was then registered in Moscow.

Let's take a look at the situation over the past six months. How strongly did the cancellation of events in the first half of 2020 affect Messe Frankfurt?

Let's look at the situation over the past six months. How strongly did the cancellation of events in the first half of 2020 affect Messe Frankfurt?

It influenced us very seriously. This year our first exhibition was scheduled for March, and its dates coincided with the introduction of restrictions on public events in Russia. Since then, no exhibitions have been held. Of course, this is not encouraging, but we are confident that the situation will improve soon. Fortunately, from the very beginning, we agreed with our Russian partner Expocentre fairgrounds, where most of our exhibitions are held, on the procedure for interaction due to the transfer of projects. Now we are waiting for the decision of politicians when we can resume our activities. A joint security concept and detailed information materials are being prepared so the events can take place in October.

What is the competitive situation in the Russian market? Who are Messe Frankfurt's biggest competitors?

Competition is very high in Russia, especially among exhibition companies. Once in Moscow, up to 6,000 events were held a year, which is an incredible amount. As for our competitors from Germany, for example, it is Messe Düsseldorf, which was one of the first to enter the Russian market. Also, Deutsche Messe and Messe München have several projects in Russia. There are also major global players such as British ReedExhibitions, one of the largest exhibition companies in the world. This show organizer is very active in Russia, especially in the environmental sector, and in the field of beauty and cosmetics.

What role do exhibitions play in a developing economy such as Russia?

The exhibition is not just a trading platform, but a platform for the presentation of the latest technologies for the industry and face-to-face communication. As Messe Frankfurt, we organize several leading industry exhibitions in Russia, for instance, Modern Bakery Moscow, dedicated to production technologies and equipment for the bakery and confectionery market. This exhibition is the largest annual event for the entire industry. It brings together participants in the bakery market from all over Russia and the CIS countries, for whom it is important to be aware of the main industry trends and achievements.

Which exhibitions in Russia is the focus on - B2B or B2C? Is there a hybrid format?

Which exhibitions in Russia is the focus on - B2B or B2C? Is there a hybrid format?

Most of the exhibitions are B2B events, that is classic trade fairs. But there are also hybrid formats, for example, in the automotive sector. As part of a joint venture with the Hyve Group, Messe Frankfurt RUS organizes COMTRANS, the second-largest commercial vehicle exhibition in Europe. The event is attended by dealers and manufacturers as well as end-users. The International Music Festival NAMM Musikmesse Russia, co-organized with the National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM), is also a good example of a hybrid format. This festival is held in parallel with the leading exhibition of lighting, sound, stage equipment, and multimedia technologies Prolight + Sound NAMM. The uniqueness of this industry is that manufacturers are much more interested in end-users than anywhere else.

Can you identify the industry which is currently considered as the most important and promising in Russia?

Four years ago, we invested in the exhibition of additive technologies and 3D printing ROSMOULD. This direction has today a very intensive dynamic. Many companies, especially in Russia, are currently switching to new technologies or at least adding the processes based on additive technologies. We are very glad that we recognized the potential of this area in time. It is worth highlighting because a large market for the implementation and development of additive technologies has already formed in Russia.

Are there any other interesting exhibition centers in Russia besides Moscow?

Yes, of course, for example, in Krasnodar. With the large investments, there has been built a modern exhibition center with excellent infrastructure. Together with our Chinese partners, we plan to hold events there within the framework of the Belt and Road initiative. The program is working to organize agricultural events for which this site would be perfect because of location, high density of agricultural companies, and local demand. The main focus may be on mechanical engineering and agricultural machinery. Also, we think about a trade fair of consumer goods in Krasnodar. This area is also seeing an increase in demand. This also applies to auto parts.

Does distance from Moscow matter?

Yes, of course. The closer you get to Moscow, the more difficult it is to get meaningful results from some projects. A very simple example: if you have an exhibition center in Ivanovo or Kaluga, you will face great difficulties. Due to its proximity to Moscow, you will only be able to attract a small portion of visitors, mainly local and regional businesses. Everything is different in Krasnodar. The city is located quite far from Moscow, has good infrastructure and an airport. But if you want to be successful you have to consider all the nuances.

Asking the last question, we would like to look into the future. What will the exhibition of the future look like, including against the backdrop of the coronavirus pandemic?

I am very skeptical that we will completely go digital. I think that the more complex the industry processes are, the less it can run online. Now we see this very clearly. For example, if you have an event that demonstrates production processes such as Modern Bakery or Interlight Russia + Intelligent Building Russia, an offline format is required. On the other hand, the event in the consumer goods sector can partly be held online if needed.

As the main trend, we see that people hunger for live communication, which is now sorely lacking. They want to meet, contact each other, and be able to hold the products presented at the exhibition in their hands. You can never do this with software. Sometimes this leads to an interesting effect: we have clients who have not taken part in exhibitions for a long time, but now they want to return.