“It is important for the industry to REIMAGINE, REINVENT AND REBOOT themselves”, Balvinder Singh Sawhney, Asst. Secretary General, FICCI, talks about their 1st ever virtual exhibition


FICCI announced the launch of ‘Virtual Healthcare and Hygiene Expo 2020’ (VH&H Expo 2020) – a virtual exhibition and conference to be held from June 22-26 2020. This is the first time that an event will be organised on the virtual platform by FICCI and digitally accessed by buyers from across the globe. The first edition of VH&H Expo 2020 will consist of five-day comprehensive virtual exhibitions on sectors like AYUSH & Wellness, medical devices, medical textiles and consumables, pharmaceuticals and sanitization. VH&H Expo 2020 will be a unique experience for the participants to interact at the ease of their office or home in these difficult times and get business. The expo will consist of a dedicated virtual exhibition showcasing products and services of over 100 manufacturers. During the virtual exhibition, buyers can visit the expo, check exhibitors’ profile, products and can fix meetings and meet them during ‘Live Hours’ from 12 noon-9 pm.


In this Exhibition Showcase exclusive, we talk to Mr. Balvinder Singh Sawhney, Assistant Secretary General, FICCI, to understand his perspectives on this new beginning of launching their first ever virtual exhibition and the vision behind it. Excerpts;

Q :  FICCI is known for organising exhibitions and tradefairs for various sectors. Can you tell us about what led to the birth of Virtual Healthcare and Hygiene Expo 2020 (VH&H Expo 2020)?

 Ans : As you are aware that COVID 19 is one of the biggest disaster mankind has ever faced in recent times, bringing disruption to the human life worldwide. With no vaccine or treatment currently in place, social distancing, containment and restrictions are the only way forward in the time being until the curve flattens and normalcy prevails. In the scenario, when no large gatherings and physical event can take place, there was a void to be filled, so we decided of going virtual as the new normal or interim solution. The idea is to transport the user into life like simulation of an actual brick and mortar space with all the elements which are physically there at any expo and providing a vantage platform for networking, building linkages and capitalising the business opportunities.


Q : Please share with us the premise for selecting this topic for your first ever virtual exhibition

Ans : In the wake of this global pandemic, which has caused a massive global disruption and put businesses under severe distress including the health infrastructure, we wanted to opt for the segments which have been the part of the essential goods or supply chain. The idea is to facilitate a unique avenue for networking, building linkages, integrating the supply chain and exploring the business opportunities as the global demand is high with exports bound to gain momentum.


Q : Buyers from 120 countries is a very robust statistic that will mesmerize every exhibitor & sponsor. Do you think this is a wonderful thing because getting such a traction from physical event is quite difficult?

Ans : The world grapples with the unprecedented challenge of Covid-19, we at FICCI are committed to support and help the Indian industry navigate the crisis, plan for the future, and generate business including exports. We are trying to build an immersive interim solution which can counter the current restrictions, travel embargos and fear psychosis pertaining to travel. We have organised larger buyer seller meets and bigger expo’s in recent times, yes it is challenging but extremely gratifying. Virtual does have the benefits of transcending time and distance!


Q: Please tell us about the platform/technology and various features that will be there in your first ever virtual exhibition for the visitors and exhibitors?

Ans : We would be building an exclusive platform through our tech partners and user can access the expo centre through possibly all handheld devices, desktops, laptops etc.

The idea is to transport the user into life like simulation of an actual brick and mortar space with all the elements which are physically there at any expo. We would be having Exhibition, Conference, Webinars, sessions, webinars and buyer seller meets, registration counters, networking lounges etc. to best replicate the actual scenarios.


Q : Will this event result in on-spot orders for exhibitors or it is essentially a marketing tool for them?

Ans: Definitely, it will lead to on spot business and offer an innovative marketing avenue. This would be a life like simulation of any conventional expo. The core, process and objective remains same.


Q: As a curiosity, are all stalls of similar size in the virtual exhibition or the sizes vary just like in actual events?

Ans :The sizes would vary just like in actual events but yes, there would be limitations in templates. We can possibly have 2 – 3 templates for now to begin with. Just to add the there would be basic stalls (which we call shell stalls) and customized stall will also be available for sponsors and large exhibitors.

Q : How will this event change the dynamics of our industry? 

Ans : Crisis shall spur the adoption of new technologies, business models and move towards further digitisation. This could be spring in the steps of the business community wherein they would be able to network with their peers, meet prospective buyers and generate business opportunities from the safety of their homes/ offices in their home-countries. Once the normalcy prevails, we can contemplate virtual being an added element in the armory until travel restrictions are imposed. Also, it counters the cost challenges, travel embargos and fear psychosis for the community to travel freely. Few more significant advantages which I can gauge are that sky is limit in virtual, maximises outreach, no attendance cap, heavily customisable and it gives wings to your imagination like never before.

Cons: See, going virtual is an unchartered terrain which we are exploring, I would not like to count the chickens before they hatch but yes nothing can be compared to the magnitude, aura and grandeur of  physical events. They are not going away.

Future of our industry

Q : Your comments on the future of our industry. Will virtual exhibitions eventually take over our physical events? 

Ans :  In the scenario, when no large gatherings and physical events taking place, going virtual is the new normal or interim solution.  Eventually, normalcy shall prevail and we can contemplate virtual being an added element in the armoury. It can be a hybrid model complementing the Physical events. Face to Face events are here to stay and its something which cant be replaced. We hope to be back next year, we at FICCI have shifted most of our calendar events between Jan – Mar 2021 and I am given to understand that’s the strategic shift being considered by all major organizers.


Q: As exhibitions will gradually open, what do you foresee will be the future SOPs of our industry? What will be the new normal?

Ans: In order to rebound, it is important for the industry to REIMAGINE, REINVENT AND REBOOT themselves. It is imperative for the industry to have robust planning with utmost focus on health and safety. Few SOP’s could be:-

  • Enabling physical distancing
  • Increased health and safety measures
  • Crowd control strategies
  • Ensuring personnel and personal safety
  • Encouraging and Enforcing measures
  • Health screening
  • Broader aisles
  • No contact policies
  • Better sanitisation
  • Attendee cap or restricted entries


Q: What will be the fate of large scale purpose-built venues who have starting bleeding money already?

Ans : The outbreak of the Novel COVID-19 is impacting the global exhibitions and events industry, as events of all kinds are being postponed or cancelled. India will not be unimpacted, these are challenging times and will definitely have short term impact on events and revenues due to cancellations, postponement of events and skimmed budgets for our patrons. We do foresee a short term impact, al least for this financial year and we are bullish once the normalcy prevails and embargos are lifted. We are optimistic that we will see a turnaround in the coming months and venues will back basking in the sunshine. China has already paved the way for physical exhibition and once the curve flattens or a vaccine is built, it would be business as usual.