In Conversation With Sunil More, President, Indian Exhibitions, Conferences & Events Services Association

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It is very heartening to see that the exhibitions and events industry is returning to normal with an enhanced pace. On a lighter side, my industry friends are finding it difficult to promote their services in their own industry events! Well friends, the start of my journey as IESA President was hit with a road block called the CoVid. I was just a few months into the Presidentship when it happened. And IESA had to direct its limited energies that it could extend to the Government bodies and people.

We all felt that this period will end soon and believe me, many of us were planning events by the end of 2020. However, CoVid kept lingering for another year and still pops up here and there. If we recall, this industry has seen a lot of ups and downs during the past two or three decades. Two such tragic incidents apart from the recent CoVid pandemic, which came to my immediate mind are the aftermath of assassination of Prime Minister Mrs. Indira Gandhi and the terrorist attack on Mumbai, when the organisers of industry shows happening during those periods went through tremendous stress. Those two incidents affected a few organisers but CoVid was all encompassing in its effect on the industry. The times were different and the industry was not so big then.

As an officer in the electrical industry Association, IEEMA, my first brush with the organisation of our exhibition, ELECRAMA in Godrej Complex, Mumbai was in the year 1990. It was then mandatory to get TFAI (now ITPO) approval for exhibition organisation and we got the same after assuring the then TFAI Chairman, late Mr Yunus Mohammed that we will organise the next Show in Pragati Maidan! It was a blessing in disguise since we could not have organised it in Mumbai due to riots in 1993. Delhi was calm though and we could organise ELECRAMA successfully in January 1993 in Delhi. From then, I was involved with each ELECRAMA Exhibition till the year 2012 and witnessed it grow from strength to strength.

But I vividly remember the meeting where the decision of the first ELECRAMA exhibition was announced in the IEEMA executive council meeting. Mr KK Nohria, then IEEMA President and MD of Crompton Greaves Ltd., before requesting members to participate, placed on the table, a cheque of Rs 5 lakhs from his company towards participation. The industry leaders were of a different breed then! And since then IEEMA followed the tradition of allotting space on priority based only on receipt of advance payment!

As we all have witnessed, the industry has evolved over these years. The technology revolution – be it software solutions, communications or computerisation of systems – has played a significant role in organising and managing the events. In the Nineties, most of the work was done manually. Those days, we used to have a calligraphy artist for writing names on badges, certificates etc. The designs and creatives were done by the artists and even the hoardings and outdoor advertisements were painted. software tools are now available to design and print making life easy for the artist to fine tune the designs to the exact requirements of clients. Most of the planning and execution of the projects was done on paper. Over these years, various management softwares were developed for inviting, promoting, registering, thus streamlining the management processes.

The stand construction industry also saw gradual change with pre-exhibition construction time shrinking from 8-10 days to 3-4 days. The industry had to graduate from on-site stand construction to modular and easy to build stands. The freight handling was a little difficult with trucks and other vehicles entering the exhibition halls then and it was difficult to convince exhibitors to use mechanised equipment like forklifts and cranes. Now all – organisers, exhibitors  and service providers have realised that mechanisation is faster and cheaper. The power supply connection was a headache then as wires and cables were joined and taped. It took a long time to educate the contractors to use male-female joints for connections, MCBs and ELCBs instead of iron clad switches etc.

No functional exhibition halls were available then and most exhibitions took place in industrial shades where basic facilities like underground trenches for running cables, water and compressed air were missing. I remember we had to either lay them on the floor or take them 20 feet above. Even registration centers, food courts, clean and hygienic toilets etc. were non-existent then. Today, we are fortunate to have good exhibition complexes like, new halls in Pragati Maidan, Delhi, BIEC in Bengaluru and IEML in Greater Noida to name a few, providing a world class experience to exhibitors and visitors.

Technology as I mentioned earlier has played a great role in changing the face of the industry. Nowadays, data mining, data acquisition, exhibitors and visitors management, visitor tracing, feedback and post Show research etc are all done with the help of software solutions and apps. We have interactive software for making payments, selection of stalls and hybrid events. He computerisation and paperless operations during exhibitions has also helped in sustainability. Use of environment friendly products while constructing stalls, modular constructions, reusable stand designs etc help is on the rise.

Coming back to IESA, we initially planned a lot of new activities like preparing industry standards, organising training programs, assisting members in taxation issues etc. However, with changed times and particularly looking at new initiatives by the Government, we at IESA will have to have a relook and start afresh. While the IESA leadership team is looking at the options, we feel a single decision which will make the industry vibrant is the Government recognising and giving it an Industry Status. We believe such status will help industry in getting attention of the Government in resolving its issues.

The event industry has a spiralling effect on the economy. The industry not only provides employment to people but supports travel, tourism and hotel industry apart from providing exchequer revenue through taxes. The Government therefore needs to look at the industry in totality and not in isolation. The industry status, if granted to the industry, can help in presenting a complete picture thereby helping the Government in evolving a policy for its development. Though this industry demand is pending for quite some time, the Government has taken a number of initiatives for all industries, which are also helping this industry. Some of them are; skill development programs, special assistance to MSMEs through loans, payments etc. The buoyancy in the Economy is also helping the industry. One more area of concern is the supporting infrastructure, which is not only lacking in 2 and 3 tier cities but even in large metropolises; be it roads, transport or labour.

However, this industry has the capacity to rise through the ashes as it has demonstrated during the past couple of months. And I have complete faith in the industry that it will not look back.

ES. How do you see the role of technology in our industry

Sunil More. Technology as I mentioned earlier has played a great role in changing the face of the industry. Nowadays, data mining, data acquisition, exhibitors and visitors management, visitor tracing, feedback and post Show research etc are all done with the help of software solutions and apps. We have interactive software for making payments, selection of stalls and hybrid events.

ES. How do you view the relevance of sustainability in our industry. Is it important for a country like India to look at this aspect right now or it can be dealt with in future.. If yes, what can be done

Sunil More. The computerisation and paperless operations during exhibitions has also helped in sustainability. Use of environment friendly products while constructing stalls, modular constructions, reusable stand designs etc help is on the rise.

ES. What are your upcoming plans

Sunil More. As I said, IESA is having a relook at its services to find a niche for itself in the changing environment post CoVid. The leadership team is meeting shortly to deliberate on a way forward to service its membership.

ES. If you have to give some advice to industry professionals on how to be successful in this industry, what would be those lines of wisdom?

Sunil More. This industry is way different from other industries and I am happy to see that a number of young people are joining this industry. There are a few specialisations arising with the changing needs and one can make a career here as an anchor, software specialist, creative artist, a sales guy, or an operations expert. The timelines are very stringent in this industry and timely delivery of products and services is of utmost importance. So my advice to my young friends is if you are sincere, hardworking and passionate about this industry, do join. You will find an umpteen number of people who have risen from ranks to lead their respective organisations with their passion to serve this industry