In Conversation With Igor Palka, MD, VNU Exhibitions Asia Pacific Co. Ltd.

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ES. You have a rich background in the exhibitions sector. Please tell us about your professional journey and key achievements over the years.

Igor Palka. Describing 20 years of exhibition history in a few sentences isn’t that easy, but I have spent most of my career with Messe Muenchen GmbH in Munich, Germany. In Munich, I had the chance to work on one of the largest B2B exhibitions in the world, namely bauma and IFAT. A few years later, this gave me the chance to continue my path with Messe Muenchen in India as the CEO for bauma Conexpo India and COO of Messe Muenchen India between 2013 and 2017. This was until a very crucial part of my professional career. After resuming a role back at Messe Muenchen in Germany, I was in charge of a show portfolio of a few exhibitions worldwide before deciding to move back to Asia in the post-pandemic era. In early 2022, I joined VNU Asia Pacific, which is part of the VNU Group, a globally operating exhibition company with offices in Utrecht, Shanghai and Bangkok.

ES. Please tell us about VNU Exhibitions Asia Pacific and their events profile in the region.

Igor Palka. VNU Asia Pacific has been based in Bangkok, Thailand since 2012 and is a joint venture between Jaarbeurs from Utrecht, Netherlands and Thailand’s well-known TCC Group, a leading corporate conglomerate in the fast-growing region. From our business hub in the center of Bangkok, my team of 47 colleagues and I manage a broad portfolio of key exhibitions in Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia and the Philippines. Since our incorporation, and especially in the last few years, we have been constantly expanding our portfolio. There are currently 18 trade shows, conferences and event formats including brands from Agriculture-Horticulture Technology, Livestock-Aquaculture, Animal Husbandry, Pets, Food, Life Sciences and Biotechnology industries, Health-Technologies and Cybersecurity. Our strongest brands are within the Livestock/Animal Husbandry portfolio with VIV Asia as the leading international livestock exhibition from feed to food, which is part of the global VIV worldwide show portfolio. In addition, our other biggest exhibitions are Thailand Lab International and Petfair Southeast Asia, a Joint Venture project with VNU Exhibitions Asia in China.

ES. You head a portfolio of events across diverse sectors. What are some iconic shows close to your heart?

Igor Palka. I am very proud of the diversity of our portfolio, from a small ConfEx with 2,000 selected buyers like Healthy Food Asia, up to our bi-annual VIV Asia in Bangkok, which welcomed 1,200 exhibitors and almost 50,000 visitors from all over the world last March.

Some of the shows that I personally enjoyed in the last year were our launch edition of the livestock trade fair in Manila, Philippines, namely ILDEX Philippines, and the very successful launch and growth story of Pet Fair South-east Asia, which doubled in size from its first edition in 2022 to the current one in 2023 based on the right concept, at the right moment, and the right market and, of course, the right team managing this project. I really recommend having a look at our show calendar for 2024 and paying a visit to our shows in the coming year.

ES. How was 2023 for your organization and did your shows achieve any significant milestone this year?

Igor Palka. In 2023, we exceeded our expectations and targets and is by far the best year in the history of VNU Exhibitions Asia Pacific. After a come-back year in 2022, this year’s shows all set new records with regard to net square meter participation, exhibitor and visitor numbers, excellent NPS’s and great customer feedback from all conducted surveys. Our results in 2023 allow us to make further investments in new business development ideas and potentially new topics in the ASEAN region.

ES. How are your shows performing in the post covid era and as an organizer, have you modified your event formats to suit the new normal?

Igor Palka. Last year, in 2022, you could still feel a post-covid impact on the exhibition market in APAC, and most of our shows had a regional outreach and were far less internationally attended compared to this year. However, 2023 has, as described, surpassed all the records of the peak-year 2019 and possible market shifts from China to Southeast Asia helped us to achieve this growth, with even more potential in the coming years. Our organization also invested in digital elements, matchmaking and networking platforms, and smoother digital onsite-facilities and processes; however, undoubtedly, customers wanted real face-to-face business along with the unplanned elements of serendipity, which only occur at live events. Nevertheless, the constant demand for the latest content and the showcasing of innovations leads to more frequent ConfEx’-formats (Conferences and accompanying exhibitions) all across the region.

ES. What according to you are the emerging trends and threats in the exhibition sector?

Igor Palka. Even though digitalization, or digital E-commerce platforms, were or are still considered a potential threat to our industry, I can also see another potential threat. The current trend of endless competition with unconsolidated launches of more and more events around the world can lead to customers eventually losing track of the right event-platforms to exhibit at after missing their ROI. With some exhibitions missing a proper value proposition, it could lead to some clients’ diversifying their marketing budgets to digital channels. At the same time, the rising importance of data insights and analytics has been at the center of attention of all participants in recent years. This, in combination with newest emerging trends of AI can facilitate even bigger success-rates for exhibitions, if managed correctly.

Another very important subject is the topic of sustainability; however, our industry still hasn’t fully adapted our events to be a clearly sustainable industry and there is still a long way to go to reach the desired targets.

ES. How will you attract and engage the young generation to become a part of your trade shows?

Igor Palka. We invite the young generation to see, feel and contribute to trade shows by themselves, and experience the positive and negative emotions in the preparation of our events. In the last two years, we have had over 20 new joiners at VNU AP. They have learned about the meaning and purpose of the events, and we encourage them to take responsibility and ownership. We have witnessed impressive learning curves amongst all staff members, and I expect that many of our younger or future colleagues will contribute new and fresh ideas to the industry. I strongly believe that colleagues with 10-, 15- or 20-years’ experience have to adapt as well and learn from the next generation, too.
I am also very proud to share herewith, that we had in the last two consecutive years, 2022 and 2023, two colleagues of VNU AP selected as UFI’s NGL Grant winners. They could eventually join the UFI global congress and present on stage in front of the entire global exhibition industry.

ES. What are your plans for year 2024?

Igor Palka. We do have some very exciting new and old shows planned for 2024, which we will kick off with a new launch and geo-clone from Europe, namely a cybersecurity event called Cybersec Asia at the end of January. We will welcome the agricultural and horticultural industries back to Bangkok in May 2024, and continue with some of our shows as per regular dates, before inaugurating another new launch in September 2024.

In co-location with Healthy Food Asia and Thailand LAB INTERNATIONAL, we will hold a Health-Technology and Innovation event under the name of Health & Innovation Asia in Bangkok for the first time. The rising health-tec industry in Asia Paciifc will bring together the smartest minds and discuss the newest trends and innovations in the healthcare sector, with healthcare professionals exploring a holistic spectrum of innovation, from diagnostic breakthroughs to state-of-the-art IT and AI solutions, all under one roof.