From Russia… FeaturesWorld

St Petersburg, Russia’s ‘imperial capital’, is firmly in the industry spotlight as an UFI Congress beckons in 2018.

On the precarious geopolitical chessboard, Russia has made a few canny moves of late, and its businesses – and ergo its exhibitions – should be the beneficiaries.

As the US backs off from Syrian intervention, Russia’s diplomatic reputation has strengthened as it marshals a loose alliance with Iran and Turkey, with even Saudi Arabia coming to Moscow’s table. The country has also shrugged off some of the effects of US and EU sanctions as Russian oil companies find new partners in Asia.

ITE Group’s CEO Mark Shashoua is no stranger to the Russian market, with ITE holding shows including Stomatology St Petersburg, the largest dental exhibition in the North-West of Russia.

“We’ve clearly benefitted by Russia stabilising. The country suffered from years of sanctions, and international companies were not able to be involved. In that time, Russia focused on local markets, so produce and food agriculture exhibitions did well,” he adds.

ITE is clearly not alone in reporting improved trading conditions from Russia. Indeed, the Russian economy swung back to growth this year, with an anticipated 1.7 per cent GDP increase in 2017.

The ruble, it seems, is making a comeback from its disastrous 2015-2016 period. Events including the FIFA World Cup 2018 will also boost Russia’s international standing.

Dostoevsky’s stomping ground of St Petersburg, which will host FIFA games, is also feeling the positive effects.

The city is noted for its emerging technology scene. The St Petersburg Technopark, for example, opened in 2008, with residents amassing almost $25m in funding.

The city also has an impressive academic pedigree. ITMO University, Peter the Great Polytechnic and St Petersburg State Institute of Technology offer the local economy highly-trained graduates, encouraging multinationals like Google, IBM and Motorola to establish development centres in the city.

ExpoForum, one of the leaders of Russian convention and exhibition market, controls more than 50 per cent of the events market in the north-west, with Lenexpo holding more than 160 events
of different formats annually. The parent company, ExpoForum, organises more than 45 own projects in different fields.

St Petersburg International Gas Forum is one such ExpoForum exhibition success story. More than 60 per cent of participants are top managers of Russian and foreign companies, representatives of federal and regional authorities. More than 4,500 delegates from 43 countries attend with 11,500 professional visitors and 500 exhibitors from 14 countries.

450 presentations take place at the event from industry experts, academicians,
heads of specialised universities and research institutes. Corporations attending include Gazprom, Royal Dutch Shell, OMV AG and Uniper SE. But what helps entice in this sort of attention?

“The city is undoubtedly a very appealing destination for delegates with its combination of history and culture offering a real draw,” says ex-UFI president Paul Woodward, now chairman of Paul Woodward Advisory.  “It’s easily accessible from most of Europe and people seem to enjoy being there, particularly in the summer when the ‘white nights’ make it a special place,”

Woodward has organised various events in St Petersburg, and attended several more, working with exhibition organisers who have a lot of experience there. He offers advice for organisers looking to make the most of St Petersburg’s charms.

“You have to keep a careful eye on logistics as moving people around the city can be a challenge when it gets very congested.

“The opening of the new ExpoForum venue adds a new dimension to organisers’ options if your event is sufficiently big to justify being away from the city centre.”

There is room for improvement elsewhere, according to Woodward. “A consistent issue for organising an event anywhere in Russia, not just St Petersburg, is the clunky, expensive and time-consuming visa procedures which remain a disincentive to international participants.

“For the heavy travellers in our industry, the famous box on the visa form which requires you to list in a space about the size of postage stamp all the countries you’ve visited in the last 10 years represents a special challenge. There have been regular promises to streamline the process but no signs of movement yet.”

EW concurs, having also filled in a laborious form to enter Russia during our recent trip. However, the administration was well worth the rewards. St Petersburg’s event scene is bustling, with some truly spectacular and regal event spaces for pre-or-post exhibition events. And, ExpoForum itself was truly ‘the Armani of exhibition venues’, with sleek piano black detailing and stunning attention to detail throughout.

St Petersburg’s hotel selection is also impressive, with popular picks like the 137-room W Hotel featuring, as well as local options like the grandiose 266-room Belmond Grand Hotel Europe.

The restaurant scene also deserves a nod, with spots including TarTarBar offering cuisine that was creative, sensibly priced and well balanced.

The cultural panorama in St Petersburg is also undergoing a renaissance. Locals take pride in dressing up to the nines for the opera (we took in a performace of Tosca at the stunning Mikhailovsky Theatre St Petersburg) in contrast to the thriving ‘hipster’ subculture, with Gorokhovaya Street at its epicentre.

St Petersburg, and Russia, are well positioned for growth as global economic and geopolitical cogs turn in their favour. We look forward to seeing many of you there in 2018.

Tom Hall

Editor, Exhibition World