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Surveying the future of the industry

UFI Managing Director Kai Hattendorf surveys the future of the industry, and puts the customer at the centre.


As I look back over recent editions of this magazine, I am amazed by all the coverage of M&A and digital initiatives, showing how our industry is in a state of constant transition. We are always adapting to the ever-changing needs of the exhibition and business event markets – and it’s a topic on everybody’s lips today.

However, there is another subject that deserves just as much attention – and that’s just how much we put our customers at the centre of our strategic thoughts and actions. 

It’s something that’s cropped up quite a lot recently. It was discussed at our Global CEO Summit in London as well as at our Asia-Pacific Conference in Tokyo. What’s more, it was shown to be a hot topic by the UFI/Explori Global Visitor Insights study, which provided consolidated global feedback from 13,000 trade show visitors.

The study revealed that getting the basics right around a good event goes a long way. Queuing times at registration and the quality of catering are the most-cited frustrations for show visitors – both of which should be easy to fix for organisers.

When it comes to registration queues, digital innovations allow us to rethink the whole process, with trends such as facial recognition at the entrance gates gaining ground. However, here, as is so often the case, technology alone is just as much hype as it is a real solution.

With all the talk about data-based business models and the power of analytics, one comment from Eddie Choi, speaking on the UFI stage in Tokyo, particularly resonated with me. “It’s great to analyse data and to build metrics. But most metrics are not focused in the customers’ reality,” he said. He also warned that metrics can mislead us into thinking there’s a problem, or conversely give a false sense of achievement.

His advice to all organisers in the room was simple – don’t lose your focus on exhibitors coming to the show to do business and make connections. And don’t rely on too many digital customer touchpoints to stay connected, but keep contact direct and personal.

This was echoed by Tadeo Ishizumi, President of Reed Japan, who has generated hundreds of millions of US dollars in revenues for Reed’s Japanese business. He says that perhaps the most critical success factors are the calls and personal visits that show teams make to their customers. 

Stephane Forseilles, Easyfair’s Group Head of Technology and Digital Transformation, reinforced this argument. Although a firm believer in the potential of digital technology to make exhibitions succeed in the digital age, he is also very critical of many approaches. When asked what he would want to see as the result of a successful digital transformation, he simply said: “Extreme customer-centricity”, and urged everyone to focus on visitor satisfaction over short-term, digital, add-on business. 

We will continue to discuss customer-centricity, and how this builds trust between exhibitors, visitors, and show organisers, at upcoming UFI events in the first half of this year – in Dubai in April, as well as in Birmingham in May. You will find more information about these events in this edition of Exhibition World. I look forward to seeing many of you there!

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