Enthusiastic camping fans at the Stuttgart CMT, crowds at the Green Week in Berlin: The first German trade fair season after the pandemic quickly picked up speed at the beginning of the year. But before the new edition of the leading consumer goods trade fair Ambiente (February 3-7) in Frankfurt, it becomes clear that the forced pandemic break has enormously accelerated the change in business platforms. The trade fairs in particular have to fight for every visitor.
According to its current member survey, the industry association Auma does not expect a return to the pre-corona level until 2024, when the current program can be carried out without any problems. Around 340 major trade fairs are planned between Husum and Friedrichshafen in 2023, just a little fewer than in 2019 (351). The international audience is still missing in the usual strength, says Auma Managing Director Jörn Holtmeier, who also refers to unstable supply chains and increasing imponderables in the global economy.
The association sees Germany as the world's most important trade fair location with high-revenue organizers and large areas, which in the past were often filled with global industry meeting points, so-called world's leading trade fairs. Examples are the industrial fair in Hanover, the Frankfurt Book Fair, the Cologne Gamescom or the Bauma construction machinery fair in Munich.
Concentration on an appointment
The Frankfurt Exhibition Center, which has just been expanded by one hall, is fully booked for the springtime Ambiente trade fair with a record area of 353,000 gross square meters. The trade fair company has concentrated its range of consumer goods on one date. The declared goal of the world's leading trade fair: to increase the gap to number 2, because buyers and exhibitors should not be able to avoid the date on the Main - regardless of whether they are dealing in the finest glasses or entire container loads of crockery.
The Frankfurt autumn fair Tendence suffered a silent corona death for concentration, as did Paperworld, whose former sisters Christmasworld (Christmas decorations) and Creativeworld (handicraft and creative supplies) are now affiliated with Ambiente instead of filling a separate date.
Stephen Kurzawski, who has been responsible for consumer goods events in Frankfurt for years, does not make a den of murder out of his heart. You can be very happy if only 20 percent of the previous guests stayed away. "So far, no face-to-face fair has been able to do more." Instead of previous figures of around 140,000 trade visitors, he wants to speak of a success with 100,000 visitors at the new and more broadly positioned Ambiente.
The return of normality
"This is the right sign that normality is returning," says Oliver Kasties, general manager of the hospitality association Dehoga Hessen, about the restart. The Frankfurt hotel industry in particular depends heavily on business travelers and suffered during the pandemic years. In addition to the closure of several luxury hotels, new three- and four-star hotels, planned before the pandemic, came onto the market. "They all have to prove themselves now." The association is keeping a low profile on the booking situation: they are not fully booked, especially since the large group of guests from China is still missing.
Even leisure magnets like the Stuttgart public fair CMT do not quite reach the old number of visitors despite the boom in tourism. Instead of 300,000, 265,000 people came over the nine days of the fair to find out about travel destinations, golf, wellness or caravans. Nevertheless, Messe Stuttgart was very satisfied with more than 1600 exhibitors and the "overwhelming atmosphere" in the halls.
That alone will not be enough at the trade fairs when travel budgets are being managed more strictly and digital trade channels are becoming increasingly important. "The trade fair must become a solution provider and not just sell square meters," says Frankfurt division manager Philipp Ferger, summarizing the challenge. Ambience manager Julia Uherek adds that you have to create added value all year round with the strong trade fair brands of the respective industry. Subsequent orders via the Internet platform are already common. Webinars, expert interviews, blogs and other subject-specific content will follow to keep customers engaged throughout the year. So that they can also come to Messe Frankfurt in 2024 to experience the products live and seal new deals with a handshake.