Kai Hattendorf, Managing Director / CEO UFI

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Kai Hattendorf is Managing Director / CEO of UFI, the Global Association of the Exhibition Industry. As such, he is responsible for UFI activities and events globally, as well as the operation of its Paris headquarters and the offices and presences in Bogota, Brussels, Dubai, Hong Kong, and Shanghai. From 2019 to 2021, Kai served as Honorary President of the Joint Meetings Industry Council (JMIC), a global Council of international and global associations serving the Business Events Industry, where he remains on the Board. Prior to his current role, Kai worked in the exhibition industry for numerous years in senior management positions at Messe Frankfurt’s global headquarters, focusing on transformational issues ranging from digitisation to marketing and communications. Kai’s work in the events industry has been recognized through various awards and recognitions around the world. Most recently he was named “Business Events Strategist of the Year” by PCMA. His previous career also includes leadership positions in marketing/strategic communications as well as in strategy and product development in the ITC and Media Industry for the Deutsche Telekom Group, the dpa Group (the German Press Agency), and a fintech start-up. A journalist by education, Kai has internationally reported and worked for the WDR and Radio Bremen broadcasters in Germany, at Euronews in France, the BBC in the UK, and the Voice of America. He holds a Master’s degree from the American University, Washington, DC. He also studied in Dortmund and Edinburgh.

ES. This year’s Congress is the first UFI Global Congress in ten years to take place in the Middle-East. Why has association chosen OCEC, Muscat as venue? With a well-established business environment, how do you envision the Exhibition industry adjusting to the Middle-East region, and making it an ideal place for business?

Kai Hattendorf. We are excited about returning to the Middle East again with our Global Congress. We were last in Abu Dhabi, in 2012 – and without COVID, we would have been in Muscat, at the OCEC, back in 2020 already.

We chose Oman as we have been incredibly impressed by the host team, the Oman Convention & Exhibition Centre and their facilities, and we are looking forward to introducing the global UFI community to all they have to offer. This is also a great year to have a focus on the Middle East. This was one of the most progressive and pragmatic regions in dealing with COVID protocols. We saw events running again must quicker here than in other areas of the world, and the investments they are making in venues, hotels, and transport links really demonstrate their commitment to our industry. They really do see business events as a true economic driver. As UFI, we held our first in person event after the pandemic here, in this region in 2021, in Dubai, welcoming 150 colleagues to our MEA Regional Conference. Now we are back with our global flagship event.

ES. The Congress is the perfect platform to meet & network with exhibition industry professionals coming from across the globe. At the 89th UFI Global Congress 2022, what else is in store for global exhibition industry professionals?

Kai Hattendorf. Hundreds of colleagues from all around the world will be with us in Muscat. And we know that the community and the networking are one of the most important reasons why people attend. Of course, we have a great programme of sessions prepared, as there is much we need to discuss as an industry. On top of that, we have a few surprises in store around the networking events – from sports in the morning to the gala night. And last not least: Many participants will stay a little longer in the region to experience Oman and the Gulf region.

ES. What role has the UFI approved label played in establishing trust with customers? What are the main criterion for a trade fair to get an approval from UFI?

Kai Hattendorf. The „UFI Approved Event“ label is the gold standard for audited exhibitions. It is one of our association’s oldest offers. To receive it, an organizer must audit his or her show according to our strict quality criteria. There are around 900 UFI Approved Events globally in around 70 countries. You can check out the specific criteria here: https://www.ufi.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/10/UFI-APPROVED-EVENTS-CHECKLIST.pdf

ES. Having its roots dating back decades, UFI is regarded as one of the oldest organisations dedicated for Exhibition industry. We would like to know its glorious journey as to how it came into existence?

Kai Hattendorf. UFI started in 1925, and your question gave me an excuse to look up the original minutes of these first meetings again. Back then, 20 European organisers met in Milan, and they decided to collaborate to make our industry better. And through good times and bad, this is what UFI has done.

It has allowed the organization to grow into the global trade body that we are today, with more than 800 members companies in more than 80 countries, representing more than 50,000 exhibition industry professionals. But, even almost 100 years later, the mission at the core is the same: To support and serve our industry.

ES. According to you, what are the top trends in the exhibitions industry? What are your comments on explosion of Merger & Acquisition (M&A) activity in the exhibition industry, do you think the streak will continue?

Kai Hattendorf. The pandemic stopped mergers & acquisitions for a while, and now we see the pendulum swing back, with many deals around the world. M&A is a natural element of our industry’s ecosystem, which remains so driven by entrepreneurs with ideas. As they mature their businesses, they can grow their brands faster when the work with or through bigger, international organisers.

Further interview in next edition