There’s a lot of good stuff going on

Our guest editor Paul Woodward asks, ‘What do Mickey Mouse, Microsoft and a new exhibition business in Oman have in common?’ Read on to find out:


The piece I wrote a couple of weeks ago about managing in a time of uncertainty has garnered a lot of attention and discussion. Quite a bit of it has been supportive of my concern about the pressure that event professionals are under. Others have been keen to make clear that all is not doom and gloom and there’s a lot going on out that’s very positive.

Both, of course, can be true at the same time and in some ways it’s the rapid return to events with reduced staffing and while uncertainties remain that is causing the stresses and pressures referred to in that article. But, there are a remarkable number of substantive new projects coming out of the blocks as well.

I’ve been struck over the past few weeks by just how positive the exhibition industry has been. I’m not just talking about the ‘Rah, rah, events will never die. We’re social animals. We have to meet’ crowd. Let’s hope they’re right. But, what is more impressive to me is the number of companies making significant bets on a strong future for events.

To be fair, the conception of some of the new venue projects on which we’ve been reporting in recent weeks goes back well before Covid-19 laid the industry low. But, the developers have pressed forward with them. Inevitably, there is some pressure on managers to trim some of the features they wanted, but by and large they are proceeding intact and on schedule.

The new Queen Sirikit National Convention Center will be five times larger than the building it replaces and competing in an already highly competitive Bangkok market. The venue, nearby hotels, and mixed retail will be a 21st century take on the model which has been so successful at COEX in Seoul says Sutichai Bunditvorapoom, the QSNCC’s executive vice-president. The owner hopes that the new venue will be a destination in its own right after it opens in September next year.

Meanwhile, Bahrain has made a similar big play to replace its 1980s-built venue with a major new facility including 95,000sqm of exhibition space which it hopes will allow it to compete seriously with the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. The fact that the Bahrain Tourism and Exhibition Authority has appointed ASM Global to manage the new Bahrain International Exhibition and Convention Centre is a clear indication that they see a serious strong business opportunity for the future.

But these are long-planned projects for the long term future. Perhaps even more impressive are those organisers who are now launching new and ambitious ventures. We spoke with Simon Foster in June about his plans for his new business, Arc. He has lined up financial backers while the world’s exhibitions markets have essentially been closed and now played his first hand with the double acquisition of Farmers Guardian and LAMMA.

Foster, like others, will presumably be hoping that they can emulate other successful companies founded during seriously challenging economic times. These include Hewlett Packard, which was founded on 1 January 1939 as war clouds around the world punctured a faltering recovery from the Great Depression. Microsoft came into being in April 1975 while the world was still reeling from the worst recession in 20 years brought about by huge oil price rises in 1973. More recently, both Uber and AirBnB were launched in the midst of the downturn which followed the financial industry’s collapse in 2007/08.

There’s clearly something to be said for launching a business into a serious crisis. Arguably, the only way forward is up although the potential never to get beyond the start line is also a serious one.

Ashley Roberts and his team at Connect, the newly rebranded Omanexpo, will be focusing on the upside. Their decision to strike out and develop business in new regions as well as the home base in Muscat is a bold move in the Middle East where most local organisers are tied to single markets. The pandemic has disrupted long-established business patterns all around the world and this provides the entrepreneurially-inclined with just the opening to try new things.

That was certainly what Walt Disney thought. Having introduced the world to a talking cartoon mouse in Steamboat Willie in 1928, he incorporated Walt Disney Productions a year later, just as the Great Depression was kicking in. Perhaps people just needed a reason to smile, but we know that it ended well. Hopefully, the need to meet and trade will prove equally powerful and people will respond as positively to the new ventures being launched as we emerge from the challenges of the first global pandemic of our generation.

We look forward to reporting on more of these exciting new ventures in the coming months.