In Conversation With Rakesh Kumar, Director General, Export Promotion Council For Handicrafts & Chairman, India Exposition Mart Limited

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IEML Is Happy To Get The SEBI Approval And We Have Taken A Pioneering Step In The MICE Industry To Go For An IPO

ES. Congratulations for getting the SEBI approval for IPO of India Exposition Mart. Can you elaborate on how this development stands for the landscape of Indian exhibition and convention industry?

Rakesh Kumar. IEML is happy to get the SEBI approval and we have taken a pioneering step in the MICE industry to go for an IPO. IEML is one of the First PPPs professionally managed and has also been profitable and this fact has been recognized by all concerned in the industry. I see this IPO as a precursor of things to come in the industry. Large exhibition spaces are still in the infancy in India except for metros and I see that when public and institutional money gets into this space, the sector should significantly benefit as a whole. I am looking forward to the success of the IPO and hope it will catalyse the industry growth as well.

ES. How do you see the current situation of Indian exhibition industry unfolding now, given that the physical exhibitions have resumed?

Rakesh Kumar. There is every reason to feel positive about the Indian exhibition industry at the moment – not just because Covid played a spoiler for 2 years, but because the Fundamental drivers of Demand are very positive. Fair organizers are one of the big drivers of our industry and I am witnessing a flurry of activity and in fact innovation in the manner Fair Organizers are creating exhibitions, events and conferences. The Make in India Atmanirbhar push driven by our Honourable Prime Minister is one the big drivers for the exhibition industry as when indigenous manufacturing happens, there will be the need to show case all this to the world which is where the exhibition industry takes over.

ES. What are some of the insights and learnings from the exhibitions which have resumed post Covid?

Rakesh Kumar. One Aspect that has got mainstreamed is the higher thrust towards health and safety. IEML has always been proactive on this account but now we see increased thrust from organizers.The perception of safety in large public spaces has to be enhanced by positive communication which we have been doing. Both formats – large exhibitions and small focused events are evolving well and this purports better for the industry.

ES. How do you see the role of India in the landscape of global exhibition industry and what can India offer to the world in new normal?

Rakesh Kumar. India as a country has gained significantly in its place in the world post definitive measures taken by the current Government. With geo political shifts India stands to gain more from a macro context and the PLI scheme has actually catalyzed industry towards higher production – over the next few years I see more an more of global sourcing shifting to India in diverse sectors and as I said previously, there will be a need to showcase the new India capabilities to the world which is where the exhibition industry plays a big role.

ES. You played an important role in guiding the Indian Exhibition industry during the pandemic. Can you recount some incidents where you had to play an active role in advisory and guiding the industry’s way ahead?

Rakesh Kumar. I would not like this interview to be about me and I wish to remain humble – yes I agree that in the context of the overall despondency and uncertainty in the market, a role was thrust upon me and I have tried my level best to play that role to the best of my ability.

The first role was to get induce positivity, hope and a sense of direction to the community. Within 2 weeks of Covid restrictions coming, webinars and conferences were held one after the other from Training people to use new software, to getting trainers and faculty and getting constant assessment of the mood of the fellow organisers, I was able to contribute towards steering exhibitors out of the sense of despondency and give them directions to achieve to enhancing competitiveness during the difficult period. The strategy worked wonders and exhibitors of SME sector turned their attention towards Product Development, Marketing Strategies, design development, database marketing, Strategy formulation, handling volatility and uncertainty, improving manufacturing competitiveness and similar strategic initiatives that the community is benefitting from today – 2 years after the sudden imposition of Covid restrictions. We also must appreciate the role of the Central and state Governments to whom we made multiple representations.

In the absence of physical activities, online marketing platforms were developed. Great enthusiasm was shown by young exporters engaged in the handicraft sector and other sectors towards online solutions like virtual fairs which provided a much-needed marketing platform when all physical activities were on hold. This is helping today in Hybrid format while physical exhibitions are must.

ES. Please share with us how EPCH has served its members in India, including a description of some of the major contributions made to promoting the Indian handicraft sector on a global level?

Rakesh Kumar. EPCH has been serving its members since 1986 and over the last 30 years has been able to provide them with marketing platforms both in India and overseas, design and product development solutions through common facility centres in major craft clusters, market intelligence through resource centres, testing facilities through product-specific testing labs, necessary compliance certification through indigenous schemes like Vriksh, capacity building through Centre for Handicraft Exports Management Studies (CHEMS), skill development eco system by setting up institutions like Handicrafts and Carpet Sector Skill Council (HCSSC) and many more such initiatives have been taken over the years. The interventions undertaken over the years have resulted in the growth of exports from mere Rs.387 crores in 1986-87 to Rs. 33,250 crores in 2021-22.

Major contributions made for the promotion of Indian handicrafts sector:

  • World renowned IHGF Delhi Fair (Indian Handicrafts and Gifts Fair)
  • Sector specific shows on Fashion Jewellery, Toys & Textiles
  • Helped in setting up of state of the art exhibition complex i.e India Expo Centre & Mart at Greater Noida
  • Resource centre at Moradabad (U.P.)
  • Common facility centres at Jodhpur (Raj) & Saharanpur (U.P.)
  • Trade facilitation centre at Jodhpur & Handicrafts Productivity Centre at Jaipur (Rajasthan)
  • India Lace Trade Centre at Narsapur
  • Product specific shows like Home Expo India, Indian Fashion & Jewelry Accessories Show
  • Vriksh – Indian timber legality and verification standards
  • Handicrafts and carpet sector skill council (HCSSC)
  • Centre for Handicraft Exports Management Studies (CHEMS)
  • Wooden Testing Labs at Jaipur

ES. The pandemic and subsequent lockdown have had a devastating impact on the handicrafts sector however, according to the Ministry of Textiles, the handicraft industry has shown a steady growth rate of 20 percent every year. What, in your opinion, are the factors contributing to the growth of the handicraft industry at this time, and what are the statistics?

Rakesh Kumar. The major factor contributing to the growth of handicraft sector is the engagement and handholding by EPCH of entire handicraft exporting fraternity including youth who was already very receptive to the technological advances available in the business environment. The lack of physical activity prompted EPCH to initiate online marketing activities and the same was lapped up by one and all to engage with the buyers across the globe. The enthusiasm shown by the young exporters engaged in the handicraft sector during the last two years towards online solutions through our virtual fairs was exceptional. Till a few years back, India lacked a consolidated platform to showcase the Indian handicraft to the global audience. This scenario is fast changing. E-Commerce platforms have emerged that lend the much-needed support to Indian artisans in finding visibility in domestic and global markets.

During the last two years of the pandemic, the Council has undertaken multifarious activities relating to the development and promotion of handicrafts from the country in addition to enabling exporting community to perform better in the world market. Indian Fashion Jewellery& Accessories Show – IFJAS, thus started the journey of EPCH’s virtual B2B meets, followed by IHGF Textiles Virtual Fair and two editions of EPCH’s flagship event-IHGF Delhi Fair, thus becoming the first Council in the country to organize a virtual fair in the month of June, 2020 itself. The Council organized 7 virtual fairs and 7 BSMs and was also the implementation organization for the Govt. of India’s first India Toy Fair Virtual which was inaugurated by the Hon’ble Prime Minister of India.

Thus, the initiatives undertaken during the pandemic resulted in exports reaching Rs. 33253 Crores (US $ 4459.76 Million) registering a growth of 29.49%

ES. In terms of performance, what are your expectations for your upcoming shows in India? How massive was the IHGF 2022, Gr. Noida? Could you share some of the major highlights of the show’s success?

Rakesh Kumar. 53rd edition of IHGF fair held from 30th March – 3rd April 2022 was a success. With a wide-ranging collection from around 2600 exhibitors in 14 vibrant display segments, IHGF Delhi Fair brought together an entire spectrum in home fashion & utility, collectibles, gifting, fashion adornments, etc. 14 halls and 900 Permanent Showrooms formed the sourcing zone, inclusive of exhibitors from across regions and craft hubs of India; theme areas and collective displays with artisans & entrepreneurs from craft clusters of Ladakh, Jammu & Kashmir, North Eastern Region and Rajasthan.

Major highlights of the show:

  • Thematic display and collective displays with artisans & entrepreneurs from craft clusters of Ladakh, Jammu & Kashmir, North Eastern Region and Rajasthan.
  • Fashion show and knowledge seminars for participants.
  • Live craft demonstration from artisans.

The show attracted around 5000 overseas buyers, buying representatives and domestic volume buyers thus generating business enquires worth Rs. 3650 crores. 54th edition of IHGF will be held from 14th – 18th October 2022, till now have received a good response from member exporters and overseas buyers. Exporters have started developing new designs that will be showcased in the exhibition. Overseas buyers have also started planning their international travel as per the fair date and we have also started getting good number of confirmations to attend the fair.

ES. What is your perspective on the role of sustainability in our industry? What practices can be adopted by the industry at large to promote the cause of sustainability?

Rakesh Kumar. The world is looking at sustainability in its production processes, it is high time that the exhibition industry also adopts sustainability as its mantra and encourage usage of sustainable raw material in their exhibition venues and also sustainable product displays by exhibitors. I am a true believer that natural resources are limited and to be used sensibly. Organizing a sustainable event represents a responsible act in terms of the environment and individuals. Exhibition Venues are finding that initiating sustainable practices is as good for the bottom line as it is for the planet. One way in which the events industry is beginning to take responsibility is by adhering to the UN Sustainable Development Goals. There are 17 goals in total, which consider issues ranging from clean energy to gender equality and education to responsible consumption. Just to give you an example, using recyclable or reusable signage and name tags for conference groups, replacing bottled water with refillable bottles or containers that are refilled on-site, implementing a “No Idle Policy” that requires all vehicle operators, delivery trucks, shuttles, etc. to turn off their engines prior to leaving their vehicles and many more such initiatives could help us have a sustainable event environment.

ES. Can you identify a trend or development that is enveloping this industry around the world that you believe is important?

Rakesh Kumar. I believe responsible consumption will become a more major industry trend rather than ostentatious consumption and display. The world including India is moving towards sustainability, climate change, carbon neutral etc in manners we could not have imagined a decade back. The way in which we can convince our end users that we are assisting in this global cause will determine the industry trajectory in my opinion.

ES. In the next twenty four months, how is India Exposition Mart positioned to become a front runner in the space of purpose built MICE venues in the world?

Rakesh Kumar. IEML has already received many awards as the best MICE venue, and we intend to enhance that positioning by upgrading our facilities. We used the Covid period to significantly invest in infrastructure development at IEML and the look and feel of future shows will be very contemporary and global. We are also offering a package of services to add more value to our valued clients- the value bindles being constructred by us in IEML are unparalleled and I believe that will bind us with our clients even more.

ES. What are some of the major shows lined up at IEML in the remaining part of 2022?

Rakesh Kumar. There are 45 events lined up for the Financial Year 2022-23. Some of the those are mega events such as IHGF Delhi Fair Autumn, HGH India, Clean India Show, India International Hospitality Expo 2022, The Aqua Culture Expo 2022, Renewable Energy India Expo 2022, ITME India, Auto Expo-the Motor Show, Elecrama etc.

ES. What would you say to the industry if you had one message and one piece of advice to give?

Rakesh Kumar. One piece of advice that I would like to give to the exporters is that you had successfully negotiated the difficult times with a lot of patience, positivity, hardwork and courage, now is the time to reap the benefit and keep working hard as things seems to be brightening up and the future holds good business for everyone as we are getting back to the normal. I believe, the exhibition industry plays a pivotal role in country’s economy and promotion of the brand INDIA message.