EW discovers Lyon, with GL events EuropeFeatures

EW visited Lyon with GL events and discovered Sirha, a gastronomical show befitting a location with increasing global connections

Lyon, ‘France’s second city’, has a long history supporting international industries, and an even longer history cultivating its culinary prowess. It was a prime spot then for Sirha, a food trade show owned by GL events.

GL events has a unique market proposition, covering everything from equipment supply, to the organisation, supply and housing of events via its various arms.

The plethora of events GL runs in Lyon, its home city, make use of these skillsets. It operates city venues including Congress Centre Lyon and Eurexpo, Sirha’s home.


Speaking backstage from the show, Sirha director Marie-Odile Fondeur outlined some of the key highlights: “We had 20,000 chefs attend in 2015, now in 2017 we had nearly 26,000. We had 189,000 visitors in 2015, but 208,000 this year.

“The city comes alive for the show. There’s private dinners and events happening all around. We held a private dinner in a tunnel for 1,700 guests, all of whom were served by 50 Michelin starred chefs.

Fondeur has worked on Sirha for 27 years, labelling it the most finished show in the world on food services, with a real eye on future trends. “We have a special alchemy here. It started with trade people creating an event that suited their niche, and GL events bought the company in 2007, helping develop the show around the world in countries including Shanghai and Sao Paulo. It’s a big, well-oiled machine,” she adds.

Sirha started in 1983, then called Salon des Métiers de Bouche. The market has boomed since, with constant innovations including food trucks and new restaurants. “We propose new concepts for every generation. Exhibitors invest a lot in the booths,” Fondeur adds.

Sirha 2017 bubbled with ideas and innovation, presenting more than 750 new products and services across 132,000sqm. For the next edition, in January 2019, an additional 9,000sqm hall is planned.

Three new contests were introduced in 2017, including The Maître d’Hôtel Trophy, the Best Young International Bakers contest and Global Young Chefs Challenge. However, ever-popular attractions included the 30th Bocuse d’Or. Created in 1987 by Paul Bocuse. The contest is recognised as the world’s most prestigious cooking contest.


Alice Blondel, communication manager food division at GL events Exhibitions, showed EW the various attractions. “There are food demonstrations everywhere, you can taste, smell, touch, and really get involved in the event. Even in the equipment hall you have machinery to test if you are a chef or a butcher. It creates a great atmosphere.”

A tour highlight was Print Food, showcasing new techniques for printing, and printing on, food. Food designer Emmanuel Chevalier’s section brought together international artists, pastry chefs, graphic designers, fish mongers, butchers and even tattoo artists to re-imagine food design.

“I have been here for the last three editions, originally working on graphics, then taking on design roles. There’s a lot of reactions to the area on social media, with people excited to share photos and debate how the food printing was achieved. Chefs feel like they can actually achieve the concept results,” Chevalier told EW.

Boosting the multicultural appeal of Sirha is the links provided by Lyon-Saint Exupery Airport, which is expanding with a new terminal set to open up to get longhauls in. The future terminal will cover a surface area of 70,000sqm, double that of the current terminals, enabling the airport to welcome 15 million passengers by 2020. 

Speaking about the wider appeal of Lyon for international visitors, Anne-Marie Baezner, general manager Eurexpo and Congress Centre Lyon, says Lyon is an evolving destination.

“We have always been on the Silk Road, we’ve always been a melting pot of innovation and international trade. Now with airport links improving, to Dubai and Istanbul with Turkish Airlines, we bring in flights from many locations all over the world. We have strong links to Japan too due to relationships including a strong historical automotive deal by Berliet trucks.”


Jean-Paul Gaydon, business development director, GL events puts the location into an economic context.

“In France, Lyon is the main town for economics, it means you can have a trade show about cars, medicine, chemical, plastics, tourism, microtechnology, digital.

“Because of that we have about 50 shows in our venue, the main ones are from industries including swimming pools, construction, trucks and printing. Some of these are worldwide.

“We also have Foire de Lyon consumer fair, and Equita about horses with high level competitions with the best riders globally. All these shows represent 20 per cent of the turnover, the rest comes from showrooms and exams.”

Lyon’s expanding trade links include new opportunities with the Chinese market. A rail route, which opened last year, connects Lyon to China. It was hailed as a ‘new Silk Road’ that holds the promise of more Chinese companies coming to Lyon to set up business.

Indeed, with 80 French companies including Alstom and Citroën in China, and about 20 Chinese companies in the Métropole de Lyon, this new alternative mode of transportation raises the possibility of increasing Chinese companies in France and vice-versa.

Edmund Hazlewood, UK/USA development manager, BDC Lyon tells EW that there was a Franco-Chinese Institute setup in the city before China was opening up to the world.

“It serves to fuel education, cultural exchanges and so forth, so we have built upon that in the past in the events market. So when Chinese President Xi Jinping came over in 2014, Lyon was the first city he wanted to visit, but the country has had dignitaries and businesses coming over since the 50s.”

In addition to Eurexpo, Congress Centre Lyon is also gearing up for an influx of visitors. The subsidiary of Groupe GL events, offers a fully modular surface area of 25,000sqm that can accommodate up to 19,000 visitors.


The Congress Centre is also focusing on ecology, with bioclimatic monitoring, solar panels and Green Certification ISO14001.

EW’s tour revealed the venue’s unique quirks. “The centre is a unique riverside leisure and business proposition with a shopping centre, cinema complex, Museum of Contemporary Arts, and hotels on-site including a Marriott,” says Ariane Clough, business development manager, Congress Centre Lyon. “From January to mid July we have a peak period. Our low period is mid-July and mid-August.”

Further boosting Lyon is the opening of InterContinental’s Hotel Dieu, expected in late 2017.

EW got a sneak peek at the ambitious renovation project on the west bank of the Rhone river. First erected in medieval times, the histroic building became a fully functional hospital, but has been out of use since 2010.

Other local hotel favourites include Radisson Blu Hotel, located atop the Part-Dieu Tower, with views of the city centre and the Alps. The hotel features 11 meeting rooms and space for 230 for a banquet alongside your exhibition.

The history of Lyon, married with its culinary expertise, rich trade links and event know-how make it a great destination for MICE visitors.

Gaydon says: “We have in mind the eyes of the visitors. The exhibitors are your direct customers, but the visitors are the final client.

“In 2008 people thought the financial crisis would dent exhibitions, but no, you need the human interaction. In one day you can see a whole market and your competitors.


Lyon’s most famous market is arguably food. It has the second most Michelin stars after Paris, with famous exports including wine and beef.

Speaking about the venue market for exhibitions globally, Gaydon says venues should focus more on access, quality of welcoming and providing better services.

“Eurexpo progressed with tram and shuttle bus access, but some venues have a train too.

“People in this business often still think in terms of square metres only, and I think these people will not be working for too long.

“People want a pay back. A return. Exhibitors and visitors no longer think ‘you have to be here’, they look at the investment return from being at an exhibition.

Because of this, he argues, organisers are obliged to constantly improve in their offering.

“Sirha works because it has quality visitors, exhibitors, plenty of conferences, forums, etc. The food business is tougher than before, but it is still thriving, and the medium is doing well compared with other similar sectors.

“Because of digitalisation, people want to see each other and get in touch physically. A smartphone can’t replace that. You need to see the people, the products. Exhibitions must become more experiential to cater to this,” he adds.

Gaydon also tocuhes on the implications of venue design for ease of access. “It is contextual to the area. If we were in the town centre, we would have to be very different in terms of our composition.

“It is also different depending on local administration. We pay rent, whereas in Germany some venues get subsidies.”

With intense attention to the venue’s management, the event organisation and supply, as well as the content, GL events’ Sirha undertaking is unique in the exhibition industry.

Lyon, it’s backdrop, however, is a vital player in its success.

Tom Hall

Editor, Exhibition World