Exhibition World Issue 5 – 2021 - Page 18

Interview

Indian jewels shine the light on a brighter future

We thought we ’ d just need to rework our business models for three months ,” UFI president Anbu Varathan tells Paul Woodward , recalling the early days of the Covid crisis in India in March last year . Some 18 months on from India ’ s industry closing down , his Bengalaru International Exhibition Centre ( BIEC ) has just hosted its first major event , the Gem & Jewellery Export Promotion Council ’ s IIJS .
Despite the long wait , Varathan is delighted with how the show performed . It ’ s one of the top five jewellery fairs in the world and it filled his venue with 70,000sqm of space occupied , 1,300 exhibitors and
50,000 visitors . “ That is , in fact , better than the previous edition ,” he smiles .
Indian businesses work in terms of their official financial years . So , the shutdown coincided almost exactly with the start of the 2020 / 21 business year . Varathan notes that some 90 – 95 % of events in the country were either cancelled or postponed . So , it was a very lean year for exhibitions . “ But now we ’ re back in business ”, he says .
He thinks that Indian venues could host as many as 100 events between September and the end of 2021 . BIEC alone will be staging 15 – 18 exhibitions . There will be very few international visitors , Varathan admits , noting that the IIJS saw only
Left : Anbu Varathan , UFI president around 500 from 10 countries . But India is a huge domestic market , he says , and also points out that many multi-nationals have a wellestablished presence in India and can participate through their local offices .
The lack of international participants will mean that some events over the next 6 – 12 months are a bit smaller , Varathan admits . But overall , he feels that the market across the country is starting to look very positive .
There is still a good deal of caution around after such a tough and prolonged closure . “ We can ’ t relax the SOPs ,” says Varathan . “ Masks and social distancing are a must ”, along with other measures such as hand sanitising , enhanced venue cleaning , and temperature checks . “ You need to follow all the basics . You know , this is not rocket science ,” he says .
The organisers of the IIJS went further and insisted that all attendees and staff were either doublevaccinated or had one jab plus a PCR test . “ We completely supported that ,” says Varathan , agreeing that it is important at this point to build up public confidence in the safety of business events . “ It ’ s too early to relax ,” he says . “ We need to at least wait for another six months , perhaps a year .”
The BIEC is owned by the Indian Machine Tool Manufacturers ’ Association of which Varathan is director general and CEO . How did he and his team at the IMTMA cope with enforced 12 – 18-month suspension of normal event activity ? “ We were actually busier in this period compared to normal ,” he tells EW . In order to protect the organisation , he said they became ultra conservative in terms of spending and tried to optimise asset management in terms of the venue . The association , however , had good reserves and he is pleased that they were largely able to protect the team with no huge staff reductions .
The association has around 500 members and Varathan says that
16 Issue 5 2021 www . exhibitionworld . co . uk