In a special interview with Exhibition Showcase, Anbu opens up about his plans and shares his perspectives on the future of our industry. Excerpts;

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ES. You are the first Indian to be elected as UFI President. How it feels to be at this position? What would be your to-do list in order of priority?
Anbu. It’s really an honour and a privilege to lead a global association like UFI and I am elated to have the opportunity to serve my colleagues from all around the world. I’m thankful to UFI’s board of directors and members of UFI and the executive committee for placing their trust in me to serve as their president. UFI is a magnificent organisation that brings together those who build, maintain and support the world’s market places trade show organisers, venue owners and operators, service providers, and national as well as international associations of our industry. I look forward to representing them loyally during my tenure.

Among the foremost priorities is to encourage businesses to remain resilient and make them immune to future contingencies and this can be achieved with purpose driven leadership. With the growing merger of physical and digital manufacturing worlds, technology, especially digital technology will be a key facilitator and exhibition industries need to leverage this sharply. UFI will continue to enhance its role as an organisation which provides professional and technical inputs to member organisations and governments in various countries. It will also further its research in analysing the global exhibition industry closely and continue to track and address challenges that industries face at a broader level.

ES. We understand that you are assuming this role at a time when the global industry is facing turmoil. What is your way of looking at the situation? How would you guide the industry and what message would you like to give the industry? 
Anbu. The year has been an unprecedented one for businesses across the world in recent human memory. Covid-19 outbreak forced industries to realign their business goals but we now have a glimmer of hope with the progress made in vaccine research. Encouragingly business communities have taken the setbacks in their stride and treading on with their everyday activities. It is important for stakeholders to keep their confidence levels high, keep close watch on current developments, work more closely with government agencies on one side and explore safe ways to restart and conduct exhibitions. There’s a need to chalk out an action plan on vaccine, travel, economic revival, which will lead to a better ecosystem. All in all, the exhibition industry must maintain its patience levels, stay strong and show resilience in face of adversities besides following a purpose driven leadership to sail through in tough times.

ES. Where do you see the Indian exhibition industry heading from here and what would be its stature at the global level five years from now?
Anbu. Indian exhibition industry has been seeing a growth rate of 8-10% annually. The pandemic impacted around 80% of its business but B2B exhibitions are set to begin soon with the Government of India giving clearance. Exhibitions in India have been evolving through use of technologies and innovations and this will continue in the coming years. India’s economy is expected to reach around $5 in the next few years with manufacturing sector’s share being $1 trillion which bodes well for the exhibition industry. As economy picks up many industry sectors would grow robustly and exhibition industry could expect a double digit growth in the coming decade.

ES. Please share with us your insights and perspectives on how the pandemic will change the dynamics of the exhibition industry globally?
Anbu. The onset of the pandemic has brought sweeping changes in several areas which perhaps were long overdue. Technology and innovations will play a larger role in exhibitions both in the pre-event and post-event stages resulting in better B2B dynamics and  performance. Exhibition organisers will switch to deploying a more diversified workforce in terms of skills, move towards more customer-centric strategies and place bigger emphasis on digital services and hybrid events.

ES. How do you see the challenges and opportunities amid Covid-19? What are the lessons learnt from this pandemic?
Anbu. Perhaps the most challenging days are behind us with progress on Covid-19 vaccine research spurring hopes for a faster recovery. This has given immense confidence to the exhibition industry which expects a significantly better 2021. The pandemic outbreak has presented stakeholders an opportunity to connect with each other through technology, prepare themselves for future contingencies and organise shows in a structured manner and well-defined process. Momentarily however we need to sustain lives and livelihoods and for this we need to stay focused in what we are doing.

ES. What is your forecast in terms of the trends that will shape the world of trade fairs? How will exhibitions look like in the new normal?
Anbu. I see technology occupying a large space in shows that will be conducted henceforth. Pre-event registrations will be a mandatory practice to prevent over-crowding, health screening at venues will become a part of the process of organizing any event. New ways of serving food and beverages will be explored. We are more likely to see more focused business visitors at exhibition instead of large crowds. Digital events will also become a new norm as an add-on to the regular shows for exhibitors and visitors to connect with each other on a common platform.

ES. Please share with us how IMTMA supported the Indian machine tool industry during these tough times?
Anbu. Indian Machine Tool Manufacturers’ Association (IMTMA) by leveraging technology remained connected with machine tool industry stakeholders on the digital platform. The association conducted several webinars to help stakeholders to look for opportunities and strategies to innovate, reorient market strategies, equip workforce with emerging technologies and emerge as strong contenders once exhibitions begin. IMTMA conducted around 140 paid online training programmes which were attended by around 1800 participants. The association also hosted 60 free webinars which were attended by around 8300 participants.

ES. What are your upcoming plans in regards to your flagship show – IMTEX?
Anbu. Moving with the market’s changing dynamics and the need to connect and collaborate in today’s manufacturing industry, IMTMA will be organizing ‘IMTEX Connect 2021’ – on digital platform, from 21 – 27 January 2021 as stakeholders will not be keen for face-to-face entry. ‘IMTEX Connect’ will enable businesses to connect and collaborate with customers and open up new opportunities in a digital environment. IMTMA will thereafter organise ‘IMTEX 2021 & Tooltech 2021’ from 17 – 23 June 2021 at Bangalore International Exhibition Centre in Bengaluru.

ES. The Government has allowed B2B exhibitions to function again. What will be the roadmap ahead, 2021 and beyond
Anbu. Although the Indian government has given the green signal for B2B exhibitions to restart, exhibitors would need some threshold time to participate in an exhibition. We believe that this will gather more stream post April 2021, and by the end of 2021, we may see shows in full swing. As industry sectors do well, we may see good growth for exhibition industry in the coming decade.

ES. Please share with us your professional journey? What milestones came your way to the zenith which you count as the major landmarks in your professional journey?
Anbu. I always wanted to be an engineer and was blessed with an opportunity to graduate in metallurgical engineering from one of the prestigious academic institutions in India, Indian Institute of Science (IISc). My interest was in manufacturing when IT and smart manufacturing were making inroads.

I began my career with steelmaking industry and quickly moved on to industry association activities. Major part of my early career was centred on industry promotion, technology and IPR and enhancing industry competitiveness. Naturally as part of these assignments I was drawn into events and exhibitions in due course.

I had the good fortune to work with several industry stalwarts and senior professionals from the exhibition industry as well as industry association fields during different phases of my career. All of them were instrumental in shaping me to what I am today. The first major success for me in IMTMA was when IMTEX moved from Delhi and Bombay, where it used to be held earlier, to Bangalore for the first time in 2007. It was a new chapter for IMTMA and all of us in the industry. There were many challenges for hosting such a mega show in a new city. The key aspect was we were building a brand new international quality venue, BIEC and IMTEX 2007 was the first show at the venue. Bangalore wasn’t prepared to host a show like IMTEX and we had to undertake a variety of new initiatives including finding the right staff, orienting new service providers both for managing the show as well as the venue and then preparing all exhibitors, visitors and other stakeholders to open a new chapter of a long journey in Bangalore.

However, we made the right decision and this marked a beginning for Bangalore to become a major city in India to host international quality shows and getting established firmly on the global exhibitions industry map. When we look at 2020, IMTEX has evolved into a great ecosystem benefitting Indian and international exhibitors, visitors, R&D and academic institutions, students and government agencies. I am glad to see that the exhibition is setting a benchmark and becoming an example for all the stakeholders in the sub-continent. This has been a great collective effort and this also convinced me that if one has courage, conviction and confidence then one can accomplish one’s vision and excel in what the person wants to achieve.