March and April have always been packed trade show months. COVID has fundamentally changed that in the last twelve months. Social distancing, no meetings, no on-site fairs. But what is the future of wine trade shows? Falstaff interviewed different experts on this topic for its current Insider edition – including me. My firm belief is that wine fairs certainly have a future, but the trade show industry must do its homework to stay as relevant as before COVID. The virus acts like a catalyst that accelerates trends and developments in society. This is especially true for the international trade show business.
From an external perspective, the trade show industry experienced golden times before COVID and has steadily prospered over the past decades. The global wine fairs have developed into effective instruments for international sales and marketing and “events-to-be” in the portfolios of many players. They offer many personal contacts in the “real” world and in a limited time frame to build and maintain long-term relationships.
Diverse, more specialised and competitive than before
But the trade show industry has already been in a fundamental transformation for years, which COVID will accelerate significantly further. We are observing consolidation in the global trade show business and diversification into regional and specialised trade shows. Besides, alternative forms of communication are competing, even if virtual events will probably establish themselves in the long term as a supplement rather than an alternative to trade shows and on-site conferences. And companies not keeping up with the trends can find themselves in trouble even as a major international hub for the industry. Some years ago, for example, the crisis of the then London International Wine Fair illustrated this.
The winds have also become considerably rougher for the industry leader ProWein even before COVID. New competing trade fair formats such as WineParis, the challenge of reconciling the different needs of national and international target groups or the much-criticised increase in accommodation costs in Düsseldorf come to mind.
New business models are in demand
Of course, a properly running, reasonably priced and efficient trade show infrastructure will continue to be vital to satisfy the exhibitors in the future. But just focusing on the “on-site” is not enough to ensure a successful trade fair concept. Travel time and budgets will be tighter after COVID than before; therefore, participants and top decision-makers will pick those events they get the most value and benefit from, or they will choose other formats right away. Therefore, trade shows have to highlight and communicate their added value to their target groups much better. This includes data driven business models that go beyond the mere sale of exhibition space.
Data and emotions determine future
“Data mining” is a prime example of this. The big international trade fair companies have an enormous treasure of data. They are currently not cashing in on this to the same extent as many companies in the digital sector have been doing for years. They could, for example, develop their wine shows into hybrid trading platforms that precisely bring together the supply and demand of their customers beyond the classic trade fair days.
It is particularly true for ProWein, which has become the most important annual marketplace in the western hemisphere for the international wine industry before COVID. It must also develop further – with an overall digital concept, with additional assets for its customers and exploiting its international network’s full potential, for example, by matching suppliers and demand via its global network – beyond the wine segment. By the way, the portfolio of Messe Düsseldorf includes far more than “just” a wine fair. Why not linking players from different industries for their benefit?
Last not least: It requires a new dimension of emotionalising, which includes the positioning as a stage for interaction, innovation and pioneering spirit in the post-COVID era. After all, one of the essential assets of trade fairs is and remains their dynamic character as attractive, community-driven events for personal interaction and networking – especially for an emotional product such as wine.
See also my statement in the current Falstaff Insider 2021 (German only