Exhibition Showcase Talks To Naveen Seth, Assistant Secretary General, PHD Chamber of Commerce and Industry

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ES. PHDCCI ever since its inception in 1905, has been an active participant in the India growth story through its advocacy role for the policy makers and regulators of the Country. What was the role of PHDCCI for the industry in the response to COVID-19?

Naveen Seth. PHDCCI has really adapted to the change which was demanded during the Covid-19 pandemic situation in the country. The employees at PHDCCI stood up as in unison and made sure that the “Show must go on” if not physical but virtual for sure. The new work from home culture has really changed the way we use to work. Now, the people with a mindset to work do not need an official space but the enthusiasm to work. PHDCCI has developed some really interesting topic of discussion in the form of webinars and virtual exhibition over the period of 2 years and shown that the business can keep rolling if you are really working hard towards your goals.

ES. As a reliable media for exchange of information, exhibitions are being globally recognized as the apt medium for doing business today. How do you view the current situation of exhibitions after the outbreak of pandemic Covid-19? What plans PHDCCI have in its bag to make the exhibitions even more relevant for the industry?

Naveen Seth. Exhibition industry has definitely taken a big hit. Big players in the market has got the bigger dent compared to smaller organisations because of the overhead costs. PHDCCI with its open mindset has made a significant change with the changing times and rather being stubborn, we rather explored all possible way to do business. Those who took Virtual Exhibitions and Conferences as a challenge have survived in the pandemic situation, where as those who thought the pandemic would end soon and will pave the way for offline exhibitions and conference has suffered the most. We are proud to say that as a Chamber, we really took this as a challenge and succeeded in putting up some great virtual exhibitions and conference which were need of the hour. We have pledged to keep the momentum going and are planning to host some of Hybrid Exhibitions in the coming months.

“This is something that I still allure myself asking over and over again – What makes me happy other than living with exhibitions? This era of pandemic gave us all some meaningful time to dig deep and explore our self. And I can clearly say, and most of us agree, that spending time with family, meeting our dear one (read human interface) has become a predominant factor in our life. Traveling “for leisure” Cycling and cooking is something that I have woven into my life, for a me time!”

ES. How have you witnessed this industry change post-covid?

Naveen Seth. It is imperative to say that the world as started adopting the new-normal environment. Yes, changes have been vast when it comes to the standard event practices in the Pre-Covid Era. To state a few:

  • The pandemic has accelerated changes in consumer behavior in terms of using a digital service.
  • Almost everything moved virtual and will remain hybrid
  • Now hygiene Standards are Second to none
  • The catering business has led to Intelligent and safe Catering
  • Event Organisers attention shifted to smaller regional events.
  • Technology replaced traditional face-to-face elements
  • The Content became king and has acted as the need of the hour
  • The traditional networking transformed to Curated Networking
  • Restriction in number of delegates for safe execution
  • There is no second to absolute delivery, but the only one

ES. The Covid-19 pandemic has left its impact on all sectors of the economy but nowhere is the hurt as much as the Medium, Small and Micro Enterprises (MSMEs) of India. How is the Indian Industry performing currently? How have the shutdown of exhibitions impacted Indian Industry?

Naveen Seth. It is important to know that there is always a new day and a new start. Situation would not remain the same. Yes, situation went bad to worse in more than one way during the Covid 19 pandemic but it failed to stop budding entrepreneurs to develop new business ideas. Currently, we have seen huge signs of improvement in the Indian industry. With the current reputation of Chinese market, India is emerging as the next significant alternative for all the products and services. As far as the Shut-down of exhibition is concerned, industry has definitely missed the un-parallel opportunity that it offers. Exhibition is not only a great source of revenue generations but it provides a platform to have a continued interface. We are very hopeful that in the coming months, when the things settle down and are conducive to hold physical exhibitions and conference, it will once again lead to a great start and will bounce back in a big way. All I can say for now that we are very hopeful to harp on the paradigm shift favouring Indian MSMEs.

ES. What according to you would be the fate of Indian Exhibition Industry? As a macro play, do you think the fortuity of having bright future for India’s exhibition industry awaits in months to come? If yes, What are the opportunities or bright spots in the Indian Exhibition Industry?

Naveen Seth. It is important to note that the exhibition industry has been adversely impacted by the Covid 19 pandemic. The collective loss to the industry globally runs into billions of dollars. Exhibition industry needs to constantly evolve and add value to its customers. It is necessary to keep the exhibitors engaged and also provide them platforms and opportunities to connect with their clients’ in-order to keep the business ongoing and the digital space has come to the rescue which has enabled the exhibition organisers through virtual shows. Global deals demand organized exhibition industry at every place. The exhibition sector in India is facing huge challenges which are hampering its growth.

As a result its true potential has not been realized and the sector is unable to contribute as much as it can. The developed economies have gained an edge over developing economies due to strong hand in exhibition Industry. I really hope and pray that we can get back to normal as soon as possible. At the time when we have excellent exhibition space newly built in Delhi and also in Mumbai, this is the time to grow. Undoubtedly India will be one market which the world is eyeing on.

ES. There is a paradigm shift in the way an exhibition is conceived and further executed. Now that exhibitions are transforming into hybrid formats, what would the new challenges for a show organizer?

Naveen Seth. The first quarter of 2020 placed the event industry in an unprecedented situation. Initially when the things that were thought to be a gimmick or an expensive add-on started to be reconsidered as a way to adapt to the new ways events need to happen with the size of all gatherings, events, and travels. If you ask any event professional on the biggest trend this year, it will be undisputed answer – Virtual Events. As event planners, we are all eager to get back to planning physical, in-person events. Opportunely now, with things easing up, the value brought by the Virtual Events is slowly re-introduced to the

scaled-back physical events, creating a new and exciting Hybrid way of doing things. There are many reasons which may affect our pricing strategy due to the fact that you are hosting a hybrid event which means you’re running one event with two separate experiences, so being able to accommodate both audiences can be tricky. It is true that the content may be the same for both audiences; the way you present it would be completely different.

ES. What trends do you expect to see in the next few years that will influence the exhibition industry? Are you planning differently for this year?

Naveen Seth. The year 2020, forced almost all exhibitions to close their doors and leave the huge exhibitions halls empty. A huge chunk of revenue for the industry was brought to a shuddering halt. The effects of the crash spread everywhere, and beyond the exhibiting companies themselves. For every exhibition cancelled an army of supporters fell with it: hoteliers, taxi drivers, exhibition staff, catering staff, public transport, airlines, printing companies and on and on. On the other hand, the benefits of using virtual trade show technology is the amount of data it can capture. Starting from client registration online the flow of intelligence begins. That data is then captured in a format that can be sliced and diced to lend itself to all kinds of business intelligence analysis. In the era of Big Data, this is a huge asset for any forward-thinking company. To be honest, it is not always easy in a real-life conference setting to gather that level of intelligence. We are however planning to go ahead with Hybrid event format so that, if God forbid the restrictions are imposed again, we could at least deliver the virtual version of the exhibition.

ES. Adaptability is now a mandatory business competency. In this Covid-era, while every crisis has its learning’s, what are yours?

Naveen Seth. The global spread of COVID-19 brought trade shows and exhibitions to a screeching halt in early 2020, with large cancelations of major exhibitions and conference around the world. This was indeed disheartening for event professionals. This situation gave birth to number of companies out there that can help organizations take their shows to the virtual level. This has also given an alternate option for event organisers to explore and take the advantage of the virtual platform where international participants can join with ease with the hassle of spending heavy on travel and stay. So we have taken this to our advantage and look forward to make the best use of the Hybrid format.

ES. What message would you like to share with us?

Naveen Seth. We cannot deny the fact that the essence of events lies majorly in offline version. However, the virtual platform has given a new angle and dimension to the event industry. This is something we can take to our benefit if we want to. It is important to understand that whatever the situation we are going through as an industry, things will definitely change as nothing remains forever. The sectors which got suppressed during Covid 19 pandemic will definitely show greater bounce back capability then the ones which got least effected. We should remain positive and work hard for the future.