By Joyce DiMascio

The two most senior exhibition and event industry global leaders, newly elected President of the Global Association of the Exhibition Industry (UFI), Anbu Varathan and CEO, Kai Hattendorf speak to Joyce DiMascio after the historic 87th Global Congress.

Both are optimistic about the future despite the huge challenges the industry continues to face with Covid travel restrictions around the world and no vaccine.

It’s been a tough year for an industry that thrives on people meeting face-to-face. Yet there is optimism about the future despite the flogging in 2020 which will see revenues drop by 70 per cent.

Newly elected UFI President, Anbu Varathan, says he’ll tackle four priorities during his 12-month tenure which began last week. Resilience, Leadership, Technology and Community are core to his work leading the massive peak body.

“The present scenario will make us to think differently and find ways to be resilient to face future contingencies and carry on with business activities. And that will take resilience and strong leadership,” Anbu Varathan said.

Digital technology will be a game-changer. It’s important for the exhibition industry to understand its full impact and let technology play an enabling role in improving the efficiency of face-to-face exhibitions.

Mr Varathan says the industry must be engaged with its stakeholders and the wider community. This will be crucial for the exhibition industry to be more successful both at international and regional levels.

A seasoned player in large scale events and venues, his other roles are heading up both the Bangalore International Exhibition Centre (BIEC) and the Indian Machine Tool Manufacturers’ Association in India. His election to the Board reflects the changing profile of the industry and the emergence of India as a major player.

Commenting on the impact of the pandemic, UFI CEO, Kai Hattendorf said that while 2020 has delivered a devastating blow to the exhibitions and business events industry, the sector will recover quickly, as people want to meet face-to-face. He says this forecast has been substantiated in the Global Recovery Report published last month by UFI in partnership with Explori.

“Our guidance and standards on running events safely in times of COVID work, we can prove that as hundreds of shows have taken place around the world, not causing outbreaks,” Hattendorf said.

“But we need to align standards with the travel and hospitality industries, to have people feel safe to travel to attend.

“As an industry, we have never been so united, and this is needed to be successful in our advocacy work as well as for restarting shows around the world.”

Kai Hattendorf said the Association had just delivered its biggest and most ambitious ever global congress with the digital format allowing UFI to really go “all in” on the content but initial feedback showed people missed connecting face-to-face.

The 87th Congress attracted participants from 50 countries with live sessions broadcast from Hong Kong, Dubai, London, and Bogota.

Melbourne has won the right to host the 2021 Asia-Pacific UFI Congress of UFI. It is now likely to be rescheduled to 2022. Let’s hope that the world will be in a better place by then.