Will the Big Expos Return After Covid?

Ally Winning, European Editor, PSD



By: Ally Winning, European Editor, PSD

Usually at this time of year, I’d be making my final preparations for electronica in Munich. I’d have a sense of excitement seeing innovative new products and hearing about new technology. That anticipation would be tempered with a sense of worry about travel plans, hotel bookings, crowded halls, long walks between meetings and keeping up to date with work. Although exhibitions are fun and educational, they can also be a lot of hard work, especially those on the scale of the ones found in Germany.

Germany has always been the epicentre of the European, and perhaps global, engineering exhibition industry, whether it is for power (PCIM), embedded systems (Embedded World), automation, (Hanover Fair, SPS IPC Drives) or more general exhibitions like electronica, the country is the perfect location for shows. Geographically it is at the centre of Europe. It has unparalleled infrastructure - giant conference centres, hotels, airports and public transport. The country also has a large industry base to provide both exhibitors and attendees, as well as a continuous learning culture that provides the incentive to visit the shows. 

Unfortunately, since Covid-19 has arrived all of these huge shows have been cancelled. The last exhibition I attended was Embedded World in February, and even then there were gaping spaces on the exhibition floor where companies had pulled out. With typical German efficiency, the organisers have almost seamlessly switched online to virtual exhibitions. I’ve visited a few online exhibitions and the experience has been surprisingly good.

There has been a lot of talk about how many jobs will not return to physical workplaces once things are safe. Myself, I wonder how many of these world-class exhibitions will be there when things get back to normal. We now know the technology is in place to allow us to access the same valuable information from the comfort of our desks. Exhibitors, who spend vast sums of money spend on stands and face the logistical challenges of taking tens of staff away from their work for a week, may see virtual fairs as a tempting replacement. 

But, I think this could be a mistake. Every industry needs a place to show its achievements off to the world. Even though exhibitions can be expensive and exhausting, there’s no real replacement for face to face meetings. It is also difficult to make time for, and focus on, a technical conversation or demonstration in a busy office. Most of all, it is hard to replicate the pure breadth and depth of the visitor base that you’d find at an exhibition. People who take time and money to travel to an exhibition tend not to be tyre kickers and have a real interest in the subject. The knowledge transfer is two ways, and not many people return from an exhibition without gaining additional knowledge and perhaps even some inspiration. I don’t think I’ve ever returned from an exhibition wishing that I hadn’t gone. Hopefully, that continues into the future, starting with Embedded world in February.