Fairs in Italy. Eurostands' CEO Maurizio Cozzani for Business Insider Italy – the interview
The reopening calendar communicated by Prime Minister Mario Draghi has revived the hopes of trade fair and congress operators: with the resumption of activities scheduled for 1 July (on 15 June for fairs in the yellow regions), companies in the fairs sector are ready to use the rest of the year to recover the financial losses due to the pandemic.
“The trade fair system of Italy has given up the 80% of revenue in 2020. We’ve all lost: the owners of the exhibition parks, the organizers of the events, the service providers and all the staff employed. Not to mention hotels, restaurants, taxis and all those activities related to tourism, especially business tourism” explains to Business Insider Italia Maurizio Cozzani, CEO of Eurostands, international company working in the field of fittings and temporary architecture. “The restart announced by the government is a first step, anyway we think that it will be difficult to return to the turnover of the pre-Covid period before 2022. The spaces and the preparations of the fairs will definitely have to change: from designing differently to investing in technology, so as to involve visitors making them feel safe in a welcoming environment”.
The closures of last year and the necessary restrictions to contain the spread of coronavirus have had a strong impact on tourism in Italy, with inevitable effects also on the trade fair and congresses system.
One after the other all those physical appointments have been canceled, like events that allow the meeting between thousands of people and companies, Italian and foreign. A negative trend that has strongly affected the balance of companies in the sector: according to UFI – Global Association of the Exhibition Industry, 20% of enterprises scored a sales drop, while over 1 out of 2 reduced their profit by half. “One of the pillars on which the Italian tourism system is based is the ability to attract investors and companies, who choose to come to visit fairs and major events in our country because they look for uniqueness” continues Maurizio Cozzani that explains better, “I choose to come to the Salone del Mobile in Milan because this is where I find the capital of design and architecture. I go to Vinitaly because at the Verona International Exhibition is where many of the best producers of wine in the world are presenting their best products. The same applies to cosmetics in Bologna, men’s fashion in Florence, boating in Genoa”.
The crisis has not only affected Italian operators: The ban on trade fairs affected all countries affected by the pandemic. As the UFI report recalls, the answers provided by the 450 companies in the sector surveyed and distributed across all continents have shown that 54% of the world’s companies have been forced to reduce their workforce. Some companies have tried to convert some production lines to adapt them to a world that has changed.
“During 2020, we transformed our factories”, tells us the CEO of Eurostands, “Instead of cutting wood to build a stand, we tried to go over new markets with other products: we realized plexiglass and columns for the distribution of sanitizing gel, that we sold all over Europe. Instead of sending the carpenters home, we invested in their skills and in their know-how. When it was possible possible, we continued to build fittings, for fashion shows like the Fashion Week in Milan or for the Cortina 2021 World Ski Championships. But we have diversified the activities, we even painted classrooms walls”.
How fairs will change in Italy
The organization of these major events is essential for the resumption of tourism in the Peninsula. But the obstacles that prevent the restart are not lacking. On one hand, the different pace of the vaccination campaign in the various countries and the spread of new variants are factors that the authorities must consider before allowing new reopenings. On the other hand, for those interviewed in the UFI survey, the main problem remains the availability of companies and visitors to participate in physical appointments (64%) followed by the weakening of current measures that limit travels (63%) and safety standards to ensure that trade fairs are held (52%).
“Fairs will necessarily have to change in order to succeed. It will be necessary to invest in new technologies, to carefully choose the materials for the realization of the stands, to develop new projects to make the open spaces more and more safe for the public”, underlines the CEO of Eurostands.
The company has relied on designers and architects to realize its proposals for innovation of the trade fair system. Starting from the design of the environment: “We need to rethink the spaces to ensure a greater distance between visitors and exhibitors. An example is the one offered by the fair in Cologne, where the lanes have been widened from 4 to 8 meters. The small rooms will have to disappear. Then again, it is important to review the materials used in construction. My company is investing in new anti-bacterial paints and washable materials. Even the plexiglass should no longer be a simple piece of plastic placed on a table. For example, we have developed a plexiglass that adapts, as design and structure, to the needs of the Media Centre for the World Ski Championships in Cortina” tells Maurizio Cozzani, adding that “We must not miss all those products that we learned to use in 2020, like masks and sanitizing gel. Finally, we need to invest a lot in technology: an example comes from the fairs in China, where thermoscanners are used to control the temperature and there’s a software that limit the access of people in the various halls. Once the maximum capacity threshold has been established, no other access is allowed”.
The Eurostands’ CEO sees the recipe for the recovery of the sector in the different design of spaces and technology: “If people know that at the Salone del Mobile in Milan the lanes and stands have been built respecting all the necessary parameters to minimize and eliminate the risk of infection, they will feel safer to go there. The Cortina Foundation, chaired by Alessandro Benetton, demonstrated how it was possible to set the World Ski Championships in safety. And we are confident for the openings in the second semester: there are already signals of recovery. We are working on several dossiers, such as the Waterfront in Costa Smeralda and the Milano Monza Motor Show”.