"I am hoping the situation in the Czech Republic and Europe in general will calm down in the coming months and we can start the trade fair season from the end of August. We have adjusted the preparation schedule for the MSV, our most important show, so that companies have greater certainty about the feasibility of the fair happening. We are intervening with the Czech government as much as we can ", says Jiří Kuliš, CEO, about the current situation of the Brno Trade Fair Co.
What did the coronavirus cause to you?
Nothing to me. No one in the company fell ill, but the company's health was severely affected by the virus. First at the end of February in our German branch in Düsseldorf, then in Brno. We are not alone in this. The whole trade fair world, from China to Europe to the USA, was completely subdued by the pandemic. The well-established European trade fair calendar is disrupted, it will certainly undergo many changes, including our calendar. I believe that the exhibitors take the situation as extraordinary, that they will not say to themselves: the trade show did not happen, we do not need it next time. They will continue to need the trade fair, believe me or not.
What is the situation in the Czech Republic?
The government soon took drastic measures, including the closure of borders. The life was switched off. We sewed the masks and respected the hygienic regulations. So, the epidemic is under control and the numbers are encouraging. On the other hand, the economy, including us, has suffered. Trade fairs were banned along with mass events such as festivals, concerts, sports matches. We object that trade fairs behave like shopping centers and we ask for trade fairs to be excluded from the undefined category of mass events. Trade fairs are primarily a B2B platform where traders meet, not the general public.
But do some fairs have high attendance?
In some cases, 50–100 thousands people visit out shows, but within a few days. Attendance is distributed during the day, on a large area of the exhibition center in Brno. That is our main argument. This is not a stadium where there are twenty thousand people at once. Trade fair organizers have experience in regulating the movement of people. I see no reason why governments should ban trade fairs when shopping malls are opened. It would be discriminatory.
Does the Czech government have a timetable for easing measures?
A schedule exists, a release is step by step in progress. It depends on the decline of epidemy. Summer mass festivals have been banned, but shopping centers are expected to open in early June. We intend to start the interrupted trade fair season at the end of August with the STYL/ KABO fashion B2B fair. We are not a festival, a trade fair that is logistically the same as a hobby market or supermarket. The fair is actually a B2B supermarket. We tell the government that it must also open up the trade shows.
What are the other obstacles besides the events ban?
The biggest obstacle is the closed national borders in the Schengen area. The EU has stopped to exist in this sense. One cannot travel to Europe from other countries. Free travel is disrupted. This is a huge problem for trade fairs, especially those that are truly international. For example, half of the exhibitors and a fifth of visitors from abroad take part in the International Engineering Fair in Brno. Exhibitors from Germany, Italy, Austria, Slovakia and Switzerland are important, as well as from China, India, Turkey, Russia. Foreign exhibitors also expect foreign visitors from neighboring countries. Travel must be reopened, otherwise the international trade fairs cannot work.
Other barriers to trade fairs?
Mass postponements of trade fair dates is taking place throughout Europe and the world. The calendar is thickening in autumn 2020 and spring 2021. At one time there will be many trade fairs. We will compete unnecessarily in time. Paradoxically, this can strengthen regional fairs.
Which trade fairs are bothering you?
The spring months of March and April represent the peak of the exhibition center's activities. It was painful to cancel TECHAGRO, the third largest agricultural technology trade fair in Europe, the guest show AMPER, and the SALIMA food and food technology trade fair. The winemakers were looking forward to the World Wine Competition with the participation of thousands of experts from around the world. We agreed with the associations to move TECHAGRO to April 2021, and we found an alternative date for SALIMA in November. This new date seems even more appropriate for SALIMA.
The flagship of BVV is the International Engineering Fair. How does his preparation look like?
Even in mid-March, interest was relatively greatest in recent years. Now everyone is waiting. We and the exhibitors are insecure and need a light at the end of the tunnel and the confidence. We have extended the deadline for submitting applications until the end of April, now until May due to the extension of the state of emergency in the Czech Republic. We ask everyone undecided to log in. We'll delay invoicing, but we need to start preparing the show.
How about international participation?
Russia is to be the partner country and the Russian ministry continues to count on participation, but the situation in Russia is not very good at the moment. We are expecting large groups from China, India. There are traditional exhibitors from Turkey and other non-EU countries. Frankly, some foreign exhibitors are still hesitant and wonder if they will be able to come here. We are lobbying the Czech government to have a special regime for business trips, including trips to trade fairs, should the borders be under restrictions.
What is your vision for this year's MSV?
As an optimist, I would see this year's MSV as a platform to restart the disrupted economy and industry. The main vision of MSV for me is that it will be masks-free and that we will shake hands again. However, a month ago, I couldn't imagine an exhibitor with masks, and now I do.
Will the situation strengthen the importance of personal contacts, or will it significantly strengthen the competitiveness of digital platforms?
In many ways, the present reminds me a lot of the period after the attack on the World Trade Center in New York, which I experienced in America. Even then, there was talk of the onset of virtual trade fairs on the Internet, video conferencing and the end of trade fairs. It did not happen. The digital conferences that have now torn the bag are just such a substitute. In addition, people don't look very good on those monitors, which applies mainly to me personally, so I avoid video conferencing. In all recent interviews with company bosses that I am reading, they lack personal contact with business partners or employees.
What do your employees do?
In the Czech Republic, the term "unemployee" is used, meaning people for which companies have no work to do and who are on a state support scheme. The management and part of the middle management deal with daily crisis anti-measures. Project teams that prepare MSV and other events, including 2021, work at the home office. I have a feeling that they don't even enjoy it very much and they would like to return to their offices. Home office and Skype is not the solution. Important decisions require lively discussion and collective reason.
Do you promise any help from the state?
I'm afraid it has been completely forgotten that we were the first to be put out-of-business by the government. The main issues seem to be pubs, hotels, tourism. But hotels and others are dependent on trade fairs in general. If we suffer, so do they. We will use all possible tax relief, support or compensation from the state. But all this will not be of much help. We need the release of our activities and cross-border travel as soon as possible.