June 1, 2022 | By Joyce DiMascio

Mark Cochrane has been at the helm of the Asia Pacific region for UFI, the Global Association of the Exhibition Industry, for almost 12 years and his insights on the global recovery of the exhibition industry are illuminating.

Cochrane has over 340 organisations in his Asia Pacific member portfolio, which covers some of the most important exhibition markets in the world. Across the globe, UFI represents 820 member organisations in 86 countries and regions.

He spoke with micenet ahead of Global Exhibitions Day, marked around the world on June 1, about the state of play in the sector and the impact of developments in China on the rest of the world.

Cochrane has just returned from Europe after meeting face to face with his UFI colleagues and many members at the organisation’s recent meeting in Poland. It was the first time he’d been able to meet up with the wider organisation since 2020.

The global leader is crystal clear about UFI’s focus following the dramatic impact of the past few years on its members.

“We’re focussed on three areas covering the immediate, mid and longer terms. Our short-term focus has to be on staffing and workforce because the industry has taken a big a hit,” he says.

“Mid term, we have our eyes set on our net zero carbon initiative – so sustainability is a key focus.

“Long term, it is on advocacy and trying to get the message out to governments that trade shows create trade, they have an impact on business and a big positive impact on economies,” he says.

With a geographically wide-ranging view of the industry, Cochrane says positivity is returning, but the rebound is uneven across countries and regions and that the recovery in the Asia Pacific is not the same as the rest of the world.

“There are definitely places where events are back at pretty close to full steam, particularly the United States.

“But getting back to 2019 levels, it really depends on the region and the country. It’s going to be slower around much of Asia compared to the United States, Canada, Europe.”

He says the strongest rebound had occurred in the United States and the slowest in Asia, with Europe somewhere in between, except for the United Kingdom which was “right back to business”.

“Obviously, the war in Ukraine is going to have a huge effect on events in that country and in Russia for years to come. But for the rest of for the rest of Europe, I would say it’s pretty optimistic and headed in the right direction.”

The rebound in Asia is complex because of the impact of tougher COVID restrictions and the virtual shutdown of China. This has had major consequences for the Chinese and Hong Kong markets but also for the rest of the world, as so many buyers and exhibitors are from China, he says.

“In Asia Pacific, in general, governments have been more cautious about reopening borders and allowing exhibitions to restart.

“There are obviously exceptions. I think Australia, New Zealand, Singapore and Thailand have the most open borders – and events are being held again – that’s positive.

“In the middle is India, the rest of Southeast Asia, including Malaysia, Philippines and Indonesia, which are not quite as open as Singapore and Thailand but moving in that direction,” Cochrane says.

On the other hand, Korea and Japan are moving ahead more cautiously, and still have border restrictions.

“The good news is that events are generally happening there. They are more domestically focused than any in other parts of Asia. So even though their borders aren’t open, they can have reasonably successful events.”

He says what was missing for both these markets are the Chinese visitors and exhibitors with China’s government still restricting travel.

“Depending on your event, for some events in Japan you could have up to 30 per cent Chinese participation. That’s a huge hit. But those are more the exception, most exhibitions, most trade shows in Korea and Japan have Japanese businesses taking part.”

Read part two of this story in micenet’s newsletter on Friday. Subscribe here.