Exclusive Conversation Wolfram N. Diener, President & CEO, Messe Düsseldorf

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Around 3,000 exhibitors from 61 nations are expected at K 2022 from October 19 to 26, and the Düsseldorf Exhibition Center is completely full. K is also a successful example of how major ecological and social issues are increasingly be-coming the focus of trade shows.

ES. Could you provide the readers about your early life and career? What have been your most memorable experiences at Messe Düsseldorf thus far?

Wolfram N. Diener. Events and internationality have been a central theme of my professional life from the very beginning. I was born and raised in the southern German state of Baden-Württemberg – in a region that looks like a picture book to strangers: the Black Forest, villages, half-timbered houses, cuckoo clocks … the big wide world attracted me from the start – as well as the world of events. My first professional station in 1991 was the Baden-Württemberg horticultural show as Division Head for Catering and Events. Just one year later, I took my first geographical step: from the south to the north of Germany. From then on, I worked for Hamburg Messe und Congress GmbH as Project Director Foreign Trade Fairs.

In 1997, I finally went to Asia, where I stayed until 2018. After four years as Managing Director for Asian Operations at Messe Frankfurt in Hong Kong, I was appointed Managing Director of the Shanghai New International Expo Centre (SNIEC) in 2001. Here I had my first contact with Messe Düsseldorf, which is still a shareholder of the SNIEC. In 2005, I moved to the Venetian Macau and Marina Bay Sands Singapore hotels for six years as Vice President, where I was responsible for the congress and exhibition business as well as hotel logistics. From 2011 to 2018, as a Member of the Management Board of UBM Asia – now Informa Markets – I was responsible for trade fairs in China as well as jewellery and gemstone fairs worldwide incl. print and digital media.

Wolfram Diener & Werner Dornscheidt

In 2018 I went back to Germany, where I started as Managing Director Operative Trade Fair Business at Messe Düsseldorf, one of the most successful trade fair companies with its own site worldwide. I was impressed from the start by the 613,000 sqm Düsseldorf Exhibition Center with 18 halls that are up to 25,000 sqm in size and up to 26 meters high. The total exhibition area of 306,000 sqm is home to 40 trade shows, including 20 world-leading events. The first trade fair I was able to experience here was CARAVAN SALON, the world’s largest trade fair for mobile travel, in the summer of 2018. I remember an internal event at our open-air site and how warmly my wife and I were received by the new colleagues. Düsseldorf is a very green, livable city and known for its joie de vivre. Carnival, for example, is an important celebration. The positive nature of the people here suits us very well. and a great challenge. All the more so because the pandemic was already in full swing at the time. Now that the great team and I have maneuvered Messe Düsseldorf safely through the pandemic, I am delighted that together we are leading Messe Düsseldorf into the future and, in particular, continuing to drive forward the internationalization and digital transformation of the company.

ES. You have elaborate & diverse experience in the exhibition industry. How have you seen the industry evolving over these years from the time when you started?

Wolfram N. Diener. In my many years of trade show experience, especially in Asia, I have been able to follow two trends up close: The shift of world trade to Asia and, as a consequence, the emergence of many regionally oriented trade fairs in growth markets – in addition to the already established, world leading trade fairs, e.g. here in Düsseldorf. In 2024, according to the International Monetary Fund, four Asian nations – China, India, Japan and Indonesia – will make up the five countries with the largest GDPs alongside the USA. Bil-lions of euros invested in infrastructure and the construction and expansion of trade fair centers have made India and China Asia’s most important trade fair hubs, a position they undisputedly hold.

Especially in cities such as New Delhi and Mumbai in India as well as Beijing and Shanghai in China, the professionalism of trade fair organizers is high, mainly because of the numerous in-ternational cooperations. Since 2000 Messe Düsseldorf has been represented with a subsidiary in India, which recently opened a new office in Gurugram. In China we are already represented since 1999, now with two subsidiaries and a stake in the Shanghai New International Expo Centre (SNIEC). China now represents our largest foreign market. Chinese organizers are also increasingly ex-panding abroad. For example, they are organizing trade fairs in countries that are to be linked via the new Silk Road. The numerous dynamic growth markets in Asia, but also in South Amer-ica, the Middle East and Africa, with their high investment requirements, are leading to the emergence of regional trade fairs worldwide. This is also a great opportunity for us. This is also an opportunity for us. With our international commitment, we are strengthening our leading Düsseldorf world trade shows in particular, whose international attendance figures are rising continuously: with 73% international exhibiting companies attending last year the events already reached the pre-Covid levels posted in 2019. At 33% the internationality of visitors again approached the pre-pandemic level of 37%.

ES. Messe Düsseldorf is one of the world’s leading trade fair organisers, having been in op-eration for over 70 years. How do you see Messe Düsseldorf’s journey unfolding over the years and the timeline of major developments?

Wolfram N. Diener. Messe Düsseldorf’s journey so far results in the fact that we can now offer our customers two major benefits: central meeting points in Düsseldorf that map the respective global market as well as local platforms for various regions of the world and markets. In this way we remain a relevant partner for our customers while safeguarding the leading position of Düsseldorf’s No.1 trade fairs at the same time.

ES. Messe Düsseldorf has a global network of subsidiary companies. In terms of perfor-mance, how do you look at the growth prospects of business in the different regions where you operate?

Wolfram N. Diener. We are continuing to drive this expansion forward and will in future be concentrating on such dynamic growth markets as Africa, Latin America and Asia. All of these markets have a high demand for investment in industry and infrastructure. Our events abroad create marketplaces for local industries, promote the development of national economies and open up new, emerg-ing markets for multi-national companies.

ES. What are the plans and forecasts for the revival of business in the remaining year?

Wolfram N. Diener. We are experiencing a slight recovery in the exhibition business. After 7 domestic events and 16 international events in 2020, last year we already recorded 8 domestic events and 21 inter-national events. These numbers will increase again in 2022. After a break of just under six months life will return to Düsseldorf Exhibition Centre – with a tightly packed trade fair agenda. The Düsseldorf trade fair year kicks off in April with 14 trade fairs as well as numerous partner and guest events staged there through to late 2022. Until the end of June alone, we have a marathon ahead of us with six trade fairs and six partner and guest events. The highlights in this period are our six leading international trade fairs: BEAUTY, TOP HAIR, ProWein, EuroCIS, wire and Tube.

For our international events, we expect that number to rise to 53, this year. After three new events in 2021 – ProWine São Paulo, ProWine Mumbai and FoodAfrica Cairo – we are looking forward to four new trade shows in 2022: REHACARE SHANGHAI, MEDICAL FAIR BRASIL, COLOMBIAPLAST and CorruTec Asia.

ES. Please share with us, what is your outlook for the Asian market and India in particular?

Wolfram N. Diener. Messe Düsseldorf India will re-start the business after a break due to the Pandemic of almost 2 years at the end of May with 2 events of Messe Düsseldorf’s MedicAlliance, Medical Fair India and Famdent Mumbai in the brand new JIO World Centre. All in all our subsidary is planning 8 events in India and is bringing major Indian participations to wire & Tube, K and MEDICA in Düsseldorf in 2022. In 2022 eleven trade fairs by Messe Düsseldorf will be held in China – these also include one new event, namely REHACARE SHANGHAI. Expecting 100 companies and to the tune of 8,000 trade visitors, it will serve as a local satellite of Düsseldorf’s REHACARE INTERNA-TIONAL for the growing Chinese rehabilitation and nursing care market.

ES. How have you adapted to the new reality of the meetings industry, which is much more digital and hybrid?

Wolfram N. Diener. All our future events will be digitally extended. This means that people will also be able to partic-ipate without physically being there – for example, through livestreams, exhibitor profiles, matchmaking and videos. Our exhibitors thus reach more potential customers. Together, they all form a community that can be active 365 days a year. This combination of a physical trade show and digital elements creates the greatest benefit for our customers and consolidates the leading position of Düsseldorf’s leading world trade shows as the central communication and information platform for their respective industries – during the running times of the presence trade shows and throughout the year.

ES. K celebrated its 70th anniversary this year! How do you see the success journey of K unfolding since 1952?

Wolfram N. Diener. In its 70-year success story, K has developed into the most important information and business platform for the global plastics and rubber industry. Its position as the leading trade show for the entire industry, where theme leadership and innovation go hand in hand to pave the way for visions for the future, is undisputed. On no other platform is the internationality as high as in Düsseldorf. Around 3,000 exhibitors from 61 nations are expected at K 2022 from October 19 to 26, and the Düsseldorf Exhibition Center is completely full. K is also a successful example of how major ecological and social issues are increasingly be-coming the focus of trade shows. With our world-leading trade fairs, we offer industries the plat-forms on which they can present their solutions to the current challenges of our time and dis-cuss them with experts. At K, for example, the focus will once again be on the circular economy.

ES. The industry has gone through a lot since the crisis began. What message would you like to share at large?

Wolfram N. Diener. After a long pandemic period, the spotlight is now on new beginnings. The pandemic years have flagged up both the advantages and the limits of digital communication to us. The busi-ness community was shown once again how valuable personal networking, chance encounters and physical brand and product experiences are. And this time has shown us how valuable and important our physical trade shows are. We now again create presentation and networking plat-forms in the proven form to enable successful business.