In a world where people have got used to networking and doing business over Zoom, do we still need trade fairs? And if so, can they be done safely?
That was the question posed by Michael Degen, Executive Director of Messe Düsseldorf, the company that produces ProWein each year.
Naturally, his answer was a resounding “yes”, which is what you’d expect a trade fair professional to say. But he also outlined the work being done to make ProWein 2021 safe and effective.
Mr Degen spoke at the Meininger’s International Wine Conference that took place in mid-October in Düsseldorf. For evidence that trade fairs can be done safely and successful, he pointed to Messe Düsseldorf’s recent Caravan Salon, an annual trade show for leisure vehicles and accessories that took place in September.
“This was the first show we organised after the general shutdown in spring,” said Mr Degen. “We had up to 20,000 visitors per day in the hall. There are many things that we learned – it is possible to organise trade shows.”
The decision to go ahead wasn’t an easy one – and it attracted plenty social media and mainstream media criticism. Mr Degen says that increased the pressure to get things right.
In the end, Caravan Salon attracted more than 100,000 visitors and Mr Degen said it proved that even large-scale events can be done safely and successfully. One major insight they had, was the realisation that everybody will follow even the strict rules, as long as they’re not asked to learn new behaviours. “Everything we are doing is using things we have learned in our everyday life,” he said. “We want to use things that people already know from shopping, for example. You have to keep distance, you’ve got disinfectants, you’ve got masks. It’s important that the visitors don’t have to change much in their own behaviour.”
Messe Dusseldorf also invested heavily in cleaning, air conditioning and ventilation, and in digital solutions, which pushed the organisation to innovate in ways that normally would have taken them much longer to organise.
“In the past, people would have said ‘this is not possible’, but we have learned that things have become possible,” said Mr Degen. “We are now doing things that we would have discussed for two years without any result. Now, things can happen in two weeks.”
Numbers were definitely down – only 107,000 visitors came, compared to the normal 250,000 – Mr Degen said the ones who came were highly motivated. “The exhibitors did good business, so the visitors who came had a clear idea of what they wanted and intended to buy,” he said. “Those who are a little bit unsure or who are in a critical mode will stay away, but we will organise a trade show for those who are willing, who are coming with a great deal of conviction.”
How ProWein 2021 will work
Organising a trade fair for wine does, however, present unique challenges.
Under German law, wine tastings are seen as a hospitality activity, which means that casual, spontaneous tastings will no longer be possible. Tastings need to be formalised and booked through an app, with participants registered in the track-and-trace system. “We’ll probably have bar stools, so we won’t have tables and chairs on all the stands,” said Mr Degen. The tastings can also be booked through an app.
Glasses must be washed at 60 degrees, “so we need dishwashers on the stand or a special service delivering glasses to the stands.” Ventilation systems will also run at full capacity, and there will be new rules around spitting. Mr Degen thinks a funnel spitting system is likely.
Another obstacle for ProWein is its international nature – it may not be possible for people from some countries to attend, because of quarantine restrictions. Mr Degen said that Germany’s association of trade fairs is in talks with the government, to find a way to facilitate business travel. “Our goal is to see a situation where people can come to Germany if they have a negative test result which is not older than 48 hours,” he says. “There will be a second test at the airport and a short quarantine period of 24 hours.”
The number of visitors must also be limited each day, and hence the fair has been extended to five days. If exhibitors can’t come this year, however, Mr Degen says they won’t be penalised and can take their usual exhibition space in 2022.
Of course, a longer trade fair means higher hotel costs for exhibitors. Price gouging by hotels has also been an issue in recent years, but Mr Degen said he thinks the hotel sector has learned a harsh lesson, because of a “disastrous year”; this could mean accommodation will be more affordable.
He ended his presentation by declaring that ProWein will be pulling out all the stops to make sure the show is a success. “The main shareholder is the city of Düsseldorf,” he said, adding that in the past this is something for which they were criticised. “It’s a good thing to have the city of Düsseldorf, because this gives us a good financial basis. Even in Covid times, you can be assured we will keep up the same standard as in the past. We will not make any savings or cuts.”
ProWein 2021 will take place from Friday, 19 March to Tuesday, 23 March 2020.