How is the show looking in terms of space sold?
We are at 98% of what we sold in 2019, and this is without a significant presence from China (due to lockdowns) as well as without Russia and Belarus, and with only one company from Ukraine. Even without these countries, we are more or less on a par with the previous issue of the show in terms of space. This is amazing due to the current covid-related context, and it shows the strength of the seafood sector, the strength of Barcelona as a host city, and the strength of the event.
Did you leave Brussels for capacity reasons?
Yes, we were running out of space in the venues and were really stretching the hotel infrastructure and putting a lot of pressure on hotel rates. So we did an RFP to look for a new host city to enable our long-term growth. Barcelona is a modern city, home to many global trade events, with a very strong expertise in large events. We are thrilled to hold this event in Barcelona. We feel that here, we can still grow in terms of venue; the hotel inventory is great and there is a wide variety of rooms and rates; it is also a friendly city where people like to come, so the networking opportunities are very varied and of excellent quality. The entertainment options are very important for relationship-building, and Barcelona provides plenty of them.
You talk about this as a key to the ROI for exhibitors. The business takes also place outside the show floor?
Yes, significantly: the show floor enables you to brand your company, meet new people, showcase new products and serve as a meeting place. It is also an entertainment place, since a lot of exhibitors set up restaurants and organise food tasting sessions, but the meetings extend beyond the showfloor, taking people for dinner or early morning breakfast, so the options the city provides in that regard are important for the effectiveness of the show for exhibitors. Being in a city where people feel good is important, and also Barcelona is a city where seafood is very important, and it is also a city where people love to come.
You go back to the exhibition surface sold in the pre-pandemic edition. Covid is digested, for exhibitors?
It looks like it, except for China. Indeed, when we look at renewals, China could have meant about 6% of the surface… so the show could have grown indeed, without the lockdowns there.
How about attendance?
We don’t deliver figures until the show is over and we know how many people actually walked through the door. From a geographical point of view, we draw attendees from 120 countries and this could even increase some more. So this is undoubtedly a very global show in terms of attendance.
Many shows are regional, but yours really seems to be global. How come?
As a food commodity, seafood is the most globally sourced commodity. Supply is very strategic; people source different species from all over the world. That is why we have exhibitors from 76 countries, and we have 59 country and regional pavilions. The event mirrors the global character of the industry and its sourcing patterns.
What did you do in terms of digitalisation during the pandemic, and what will stay in this edition?
We tested different formats, for instance a simple matchmaking event suppliers-buyers, very focused which worked very well. We also organised a more comprehensive trade show with a strong focus on conferences and content; we found that delivering content online works well; people appreciate the possibility to consume content when and where they like… but what current platforms don’t really provide is a good solution for buyers to find new products, for virtual booths to be properly attended. Someone attending an event virtually is distracted and many things compete for their attention; when they come, they are more focused.
Regarding the future, I find the digital aspect will complement events, it can help generate new leads, content and education. But proper networking and focused clients are still proper of face-to-face events.
You are a media company, what other solutions do you offer to suppliers?
We have this global event in Barcelona; we also organise an event in North America where a global base of suppliers can target the North American market; we also have an event focused on Asia in September; and we have our online news media thanks to which we can offer marketing solutions like product listing, webinars to educate clients, and other advertising opportunities. So online does offer plenty of options for education and marketing, but networking and full customer attention are still the characteristic of F2F events.
Does the idea of an hybrid event, where people can participate physically or remotely, have potential?
The show will probably integrate more digital components. This year, we will record our conference programme for after-show broadcast. We also have a mobile app thanks to which people can navigate the show; our signage is becoming digital, QR-codes are becoming the solution to give promotional material to clients.
For the future, I think Zoom and videoconferencing will play a role, with people incorporating meetings and presentations on-site on their booths to be broadcast beyond the show floor… but we don’t have anything structured this year since people have digital fatigue.
What values does such a face-to-face show bring to your clients?
People mostly come to a show like this to build confidence. We offer an online directory but if people are going to do business with a new supplier, they want to create the personal connection, they need to understand the certifications of the company, its values, processes, and know the people they will do business with. There is a lot of due diligence in vetting suppliers, so you need to meet.
There is also an experiential component: a lot of fish is brought to the show. Being a food event, you people need to see and taste the product. So people build restaurants on the show floor. The Norwegian pavilion builds a restaurant for instance, and there is a lot of entertainment taking place.
Also, being a global gathering of the industry, and given the growing importance of sustainability, the event also incorporates more and more profiles like sustainability officers, NGOs and governments. So besides doing business, the event is also turning into a platform to discuss the key issues of our industry. We also have awards which are an important moment of recognition of the excellence of the industry.
What covid measures did you take?
We follow the guidelines of Spain so we lifted vaccine requirements. We have on-site testing for people to use as a courtesy as they wish. And the indoor mask mandate was recently lifted in Spain so we don’t require it, though we encourage it.
No doubt of the future of events?
Events Face to face, over and over, shows its importance and its resilience. We had many challenges (bombings in Brussels, the volcano, now Covid…) but the event is here for the long term.