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


“Efficiency and precision have driven me for a very long time based on my German origin, with a growing pinch of flexibility on processes and procedures, which I’ve particularly learned in India. So artistically, the Taj Mahal is a beautiful and meaningful symbol for me as it represents not only some of my core values but also reminds me of my exciting time in India, where I grew personally and professionally a lot.”

ES. As the new Managing Director for VNU’s business in Southeast Asia, how are you planning for your onboarding process and what are your goals and vision for the company?

Igor Palka. Due to the current restrictions, I am having a hybrid onboarding process, firstly digitally with all internal stakeholders and team members and from the second week onwards in face-to-face meetings. For me, it is of huge importance to understand the regional and cultural differences and opportunities very fast by talking with my team and clients. Additionally, I want to get to know everyone very quickly and come up with new ideas and and a clear direction for the company as a guidance for the team. Ultimately, the short-term goals are to bring the trade fairs on the showfloor again, understanding the current and future requirements and wishes of our clients and in the mid- and longterm growing our existing shows by size and the organization by adding more to the entire portfolio.

ES. Please tell us about your introduction to the exhibition industry. Can you share with us the experiences and achievements that shaped your journey as a successful leader within this industry?

Igor Palka. Simply put, I’ve been only working in the exhibition industry so far. After graduating from school I ended up as a student with one leading German trade fair organizer where I had the chance to get to know the beauty and diversity of trade shows. With the same organization, for which I worked in total almost 18 years, I had the chance to travel, work abroad and in several different industry sectors, meet many different colleagues, friends and customers from around the world. The biggest achievements can be considered my 4-year tenure in India with several huge trade fairs conducted year-on-year and the time back in my former headquarter where I could grow a show-portfolio from 2 to 5 events within 4 years. The most recent chapter is surely related to the high adaptability and to new, especially digital, formats, which I was contributing additional to my role in order to generate further business.

ES. Can you share with us the success stories of your shows? What makes a successful show in your eyes?

Igor Palka. The success stories can be told at best by our customers, the exhibitors and visitors. Their satisfaction is our satisfaction. Having received the right amount of contacts, leads, engagement, even deals versus the overall investment for the trade fair is eventually what we are being measured by. Especially with tighter budgets and a competitive trade show market, standing out with your own event, becomes a constant driver to exceed expectations. Additionally, my opinion is, that the success of a show can be measured by achieving the right quality and completeness of attendance looking at the entire value chain of a show topic, meaning that, if you manage bringing all important stakeholders of a particular domain to the show floor and enable the right matchmaking between the right target audiences, you have successfully created a platform which should be fruitful to its participants.

ES. Influence has long been a requirement for successful leadership. What artistic influences have you kept with you the longest?

Igor Palka. Efficiency and precision have driven me for a very long time based on my German origin, with a growing pinch of flexibility on processes and procedures, which I’ve particularly learned in India. So artistically, the Taj Mahal is a beautiful and meaningful symbol for me as it represents not only some of my core values but also reminds me of my exciting time in India, where I grew personally and professionally a lot.

ES. How many other projects do you expect to launch in the coming years? Do you have any other expansion plans?

Igor Palka. At the moment, there are many ideas on the table, however we need to monitor the current situation carefully and eventually start delivering our trade fairs first. Some of our shows are new launches, which couldn’t happen yet in a physical form.

In total we are planning 19 trade shows and event formats both online and face-to-face platforms including brands from the AgriTech, Animal Husbandry, Animal Companion, Food, Life Sciences, Biotechnology, 5G and IoT and Disaster Resilience industries. Those topics will be very exciting to witness and see growing. But I foresee, the consolidation-phase turning into a rapid growth-phase again, where we will seek to add new verticals and shows, not only in Thailand but the entire ASEAN market.

ES. As we wrap up the unprecedented 2020-2021, we are looking forward to the year 2022 with great hopes. What are your expectations for 2022?

Igor Palka. The expectations are optimistic-realistic by seeing more and more exhibitions returning to its original face-to-face format with additional digital extensions. I expect the first exhibitions in 2022 still having a certain regional limitation when it comes to its physical attendance, but I strongly believe, that we will welcome more and more international participants on our platforms towards the end of the year again. With less restrictions globally, I do hope, that we can look into running a full show-calendar without major disruption, satisfy our loyal customers and welcome them back year-on-year.

ES. South East Asia is one of the most important growth drivers of the global economy. According to you, what key trends are emerging in the MICE industry?

Igor Palka. South East Asia is indeed a very fascinating region with a very inspiring tradition and very rich cultural diversity. Hence, it is immensely interesting to conduct trade fairs in these markets, as we have here a rather young and growing, cultural-inspired and digital-savvy population with a constantly increasing economic growth, despite regional or momentary lows. But the investment in new exhibition venues such as the Queen Sirikit National Convention Center with approx. 2,80,000 sqm is clearly an introduction into a new era of MICE in this region. Such modern and attractive venues in combination with the right industry-focused exhibitions will attract pan-regional attendance to our locations and further strengthen the economic development of the ASEAN market. Alone the market value of the MICE industry in Asia Pacific is forecasted to reach $ 440bn in the upcoming years.

ES. What are your current goals and how they align with your strategy and current business environment?

Igor Palka. My current goals are definitely to regain past strength and size by organizing numerous trade fairs, which are now planned for a rather-long period. Additionally, I am very passionate about the region and diverse markets here in South East Asia, hence my ambition is to create more and more meaningful and successful platforms in several industrial sectors and become one of the leading trade show organizations in this part of the world. With my very passionate and well-experienced team, we are already on the very best way to realize my first mission, with more to come in the next years.

ES. What has the pandemic taught us about the current state of the exhibition industry? What plans do you have in regards to preventive measures to take with the rise of Omicron?

Igor Palka. The pandemic has taught us to embrace change and to higher adaptability of new and constantly changing circumstances. Weeks and months of planning can be repeatidly frustrating, when new restrictions do not allow a safe and succesful trade fair execution. However, I do believe, that there are many preventive measures in place, which we can see being followed all around the world, which allow us to travel safely and conduct our business-related trade fairs without any risk in our favourable destinations. We as an international organization will always seek for the highest standards in terms of quality and service orientation, which definitely also applies tot he health and safety regulations before, during and after an exhibition.

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

Igor Palka. I thank Exhibition Showace to giving me the opportunity sharing my thoughts through this interview and I do welcome every single reader to VNU’s trade fairs in Utrecht, China and of course the entire Asia Pacific region. I’d be glad to see some familiar faces at our trade fairs soon again.