After remaining closed for a long time due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the large trade exhibitions are gradually making a comeback, but the situation has still not improved as expected, so the organisers are holding online exhibitions, avoiding large crowds.
The expo organisers said they have suffered losses as they could not organise events for about a year and a half. Buyers and sellers who take part in these exhibitions also said they have been suffering losses and they wanted to return to profit.
But the situation is not yet conducive to organising an exhibition with physical presence of a large audience. Some countries in the world have seen some improvement due to vaccination, but the situation is not improving equally in all countries. Many countries now have restrictions on the entry of foreign nationals and obligation to comply with quarantine. In this situation, the organisers have resorted to holding the exhibitions online.
CEMS Global USA, associated with CEMS Bangladesh, organised two virtual exhibitions named Global Yarn and Fabric Sourcing Show and Dhaka International Yarn and Fabric Show in November last year and March this year. They have also decided to host at least eight more virtual exhibitions, including expos on agriculture, food, poultry, medicines and chemicals, this year.
Meherun N Islam, president and group managing director at CEMS Global, told TBS, "The main purpose of organising the expo was to provide communication and networking among the buyers and sellers. Because of the Covid-19 situation, we had to wait for a long time to hold expos. As the situation is not improving, we are organising virtual exhibitions like other countries."
"The two expos we organised have met our expectations and are encouraging us to organise more expos in the future," she added.
The Hong Kong-based Yorkers Trade and Marketing Service Company will organise the four-day International Plastic, Printing and Packaging Industry Fair (IPF) online on 5-8 July and Dhaka International Textile and Garment Machinery Exhibition, known as DTG, in August.
Event and exhibition organiser Alliant is the Yorkers Trade and Marketing's local representative in Bangladesh. Rubaiyat Ahsan, managing director and CEO of Alliant, told TBS that 483 companies from 19 countries including 126 companies of Bangladesh are going to participate in the online IPF. Companies from a number of Asian and European countries, the United States, and Australia will participate in the exhibition.
He said about 1,200 companies from 35 countries could take part in the DTG exhibition to be held in August. The process of taking online applications to participate in these expos has already started. The Bangladesh Textile Mills Association (BTMA) is involved in organising this exhibition. On the other hand Bangladesh Plastic Goods Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BPGMEA) are involved with upcoming expo IPF.
Ferdous Wahid, director of BPGMEA told TBS, "The Covid-19 crisis has created a stagnant situation for the last one and a half years, but our exports, raw material imports or foreign investment are going on. We are going to start organising the expo online, because we do not know when the situation will be normal."
Another big event and exhibition organising firm Zakaria International has not yet started organising expos online, but they too are thinking about starting. According to industry insiders, other organisers are also considering holding virtual exhibitions.
Expo organisers said they create a platform for the virtual exhibition, where the participating companies present their profiles and other details including pictures of their products. Visitors or representatives of the buyer organisations can take the information from there and talk with the sellers virtually at specific times.
An online marketing expo does not cost as much as a conventional expo, a senior official in the marketing department of CEMS Global told TBS. The online expo is technology-dependent, so they still have to spend money on building and managing the platform. That is why they have to take money from the participants.
The organisers also talked about some challenges in organising the expo. They said technological limitations and connectivity issues are major challenges for the virtual expos. These exhibitions bring networking opportunities, but they cannot bring the real effect or feel of the product and services which one can offer and explain over a physical meeting and conversation.
Maintaining audience engagement, keeping participants interested, security concerns, lack of technical expertise, technological support, proper content strategy, awareness about audience technology and two way communication also pose challenges to the organisers.
Abhishek Das, a senior marketing official at CEMS Global's Bangladesh office, told TBS, "The virtual exhibition is by no means a replacement for a physical exhibition. However, this provides the opportunity to create a network of buyers and sellers, so they can stay in touch."
Expo organisers said before the Covid-19 hit, hundreds of local and international fairs and exhibitions were organised in the country every year. Of these, 40 to 42 exhibitions were held on a large scale, with foreign organisations and representatives taking part. Around Tk1,000-1,500 crore were transacted during these exhibitions.
The expo organisers said the trade fair industry, along with hospitality and tourism, is one of the sectors hit hard by the pandemic. Hotels, airlines, logistic companies, event management companies, clearing and forwarding agencies, tour operators, rental cars, restaurants, shopping centers are facing losses as the exhibitions are not held. 70% of Tourism in Bangladesh is mainly from business tourism which is directly connected with conference seminars and exhibitions.
Globally, there are approximately 32,000 exhibitions each year, featuring 4.5 million exhibiting companies and attracting over 303 million visitors. Exhibitors and visitors combined spend around $137 billion every year on exhibitions, making exhibitions a significant global industry, said CEMS Global.