Exhibition World Issue 5 – 2021 - Page 19

Interview
they doubled down on their focus on members ’ concerns and issues . “ So , I will say we took more than 100 interventions [ on behalf of members ], working with members , working with government ”. The issues varied from cash flow , to guidance on closing down and restarting workplaces , government rules , the supply chain for the industry , and raw material availability . There was a huge variety of subjects , he says .
As with many associations , education and training is a key activity for the IMTMA and that grew in importance although it was delivered almost exclusively online . While digital delivery may remain the main channel for this in the future , Varathan is less convinced of its capacity to displace trade fairs . In keeping with many of his industry peers , he believes “ when it comes to trade shows there is no substitute available for face to face . Technology , as of today , cannot replace what face to face can deliver ”.
What his team was able to do , he says , was to use digital tools to stay in touch with their stakeholders and to allow exhibitors and visitors to get in touch with one another . The value of this is relatively limited , he believes , but was the best that could be offered when physical events were not possible . Still , important lessons have been learned , and he is convinced that we will see a higher level of technology deployed at events in the future .
What Varathan believes is critical
“ Trying to connect with trade and tourism ministers responsible for the exhibition industry in one way or other will give a better connection to those political leaders with our industry .”
Right : India International Jewellery Show
is that there is really sharp focus on the value that technology adds to the customers . Without a real understanding of that value , he sees no possibility for developing a viable revenue model for the digital services which are now being so widely discussed . That value must come , he says , either in terms of improved efficiency or stakeholder satisfaction . “ We need to be very smart in identifying areas where technology can actually adapt to add real value to exhibitors ,” Varathan thinks .
Looking at the bigger picture for India , Varathan is very optimistic for the future . He accepts that it will take another 12 months or so to recover from the impact of the pandemic . But , then , he believes , the combination of a much stronger venue situation across the country , combined with growth prospects , can only spell good news for the exhibition industry . He believes the economy will grow from US $ 3 trillion to around US $ 5 trilllion in the next five years . With the right government policies in place , he thinks this will drive manufacturing up by 20 %. Within 10 years , Varathan sees India with a $ 10 trillion economy and a $ 2 – 2.5 trillion manufacturing sector . “ It ’ s a super opportunity for exhibitions ,” he says .
Turning from India to the global industry , Varathan concedes that it hasn ’ t been quite the year that he envisaged when he agreed to take on
the role of UFI president . “ It ’ s been a tough year for UFI , obviously ,” he says . But he feels that the organisation has been reinventing itself very rapidly in response to the crisis . He reiterates the focus that he described at last year ’ s virtual Congress when he took on the role . “ I said that we need to focus on the restart as very important ,” he said . Leadership , technology and connecting with the community were the other three pillars on which he focused .
Varathan knows that the restart job is far from done . He feels that for at least another year , all sides of the exhibition industry community will still be responding to the challenges of the pandemic . “ So here , working with government plays a very important role ,” he notes , referring to UFI ’ s new Global Policy initiative . By trying to connect with trade and tourism ministers who are responsible for the exhibition industry in one way or other “ it will give a better connection to those political leaders with our industry ”. This will help to get a better policy environment and better initiatives , he thinks . “ There are lots of things to be done yet ”.
Even after this challenging year , Varathan speaks with great energy and enthusiasm about the future of exhibitions . One of the industry ’ s consummate professionals , he leads with a very positive outlook and a winning smile .
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