Brave new world

The International Exhibition Logistics Association (IELA) chairman Guido Fornelli tells EW, in an exclusive interview, that the Covid-19 pandemic has led to “new ideas, new tools and new platforms” for a new era being created by the association.


How has IELA had to reassess its business model over the past six months?
The New Now - the new reality we are all facing in the exhibition world - poses new challenges to the whole event value chain. We all know the exhibition and event industry is a truly global industry made of resilient, creative and strong people. It’s the People factor which is the answer to all new threats and leads to new business models emerging. A great example of this is the new IELA Board of Management, ready to take decisive actions and launch a formal transformation programme for the association.

The initial reaction to the pandemic as an association was a restlessness to continue developing projects. This led to new ideas, new tools and new platforms for the new era being created -  #togetherstrong, IELA RELOAD and the online Operations Summit – all delivering strong value to our members to overcome the pandemic.

Our annual Congress and Partnering Event had to be postponed. (In pre-pandemic times, this event has been historically important not only for the logistics industry, but also for many other segments.) Board meetings have been held electronically to avoid long-term travel, which still remains restricted or not recommended in most of the world.

We are proud that the association acted fast, delivering universal support and liaising with key partner associations to intensify collaboration for sharing information and heightening advocacy work in support of the industry.


What support have you been able to provide IELA members over the past six months and what support have your members given to IELA?  

The IELA Team trebled its efforts to support our membership. We called our members personally to better understand their new needs and requirements and two key projects were launched: The TogetherSTRONG Campaign and IELA RELOAD, our recovery programme aimed at members to prepare for the New Now in the exhibition industry.

IELA has members in 56 countries and each is a source of precious information, giving the association an up-to-date view of the situation worldwide. IELA members are proven experts in their field and are well-prepared to solve any challenges. The IELA RELOAD programme was designed for IELA members by IELA members and all IELA Recovery Talks were presented by members who led the brainstorming sessions.

The Recovery Talks (10 in total) and IELA Reload were not only remarkable ideas, but great examples of excellent co-operation. Plenty of volunteers contributed to the new format, which made a huge difference to the content provided. This is the most important lesson that has been learned post-Covid-19: The community and the association have never been more relevant and crucial than now.


Have your members reoriented to their national markets?

Yes. Today the exhibition market is slowly restarting on a local dimension and our associates who manage the on-site logistics within venues are focusing on providing services mainly to local exhibitors.

IELA members’ expertise in special logistics and forwarding dangerous goods has allowed them to help in the delivery of medical supplies. Now that the market is slowly restarting on a local dimension in some countries (with few international exhibitors still), our members are returning slowly to action with national forwarding.


What kind of losses has the logistics industry had to bear?

Speaking strictly on our field of logistics services for exhibitions and events, the reduction of work on a global level has certainly encountered the same levels of contraction recorded by organisers and venues. The situation has been further aggravated by the reduction in the operations of vectors resulting from the spread of the infection. We refer mainly to air carriers.


How creative have your members been to keep busy?

Our associates generally take an approach aimed at problem-solving. They reacted extremely quickly and creatively to the pandemic. They searched to find work in other segments of the shipping and logistics industry and also found different ways to keep their teams together, through training sessions and by reviewing their procedures, as well as maintaining their assets. Not to mention those who, in various ways, collaborated in the creation of hospitals and the supply of medicine during the most serious moments of the sanitary emergency.


How do you see the future and what is IELA’s strategy for emerging from the crisis?

We don’t know when, but we are sure that the exhibition industry will restart. Consequently, today our efforts are concentrated on evaluating all possible tools to allow our associates to reach the end of this tunnel and to intercept the requests of the new market of events that will be created after the pandemic. This will certainly see the development of the concept of hybrids rather than widespread events.


What crucial role does IELA have to play over the next six months?

From the first moments of this crisis, IELA has been one of the most active associations in trying to collaborate with industry stakeholders to share information, ideas and requests for targeted support. This commitment will also be pivotal in the next six months, together with the promotion and support in the organisation of events which are still on schedule today. I am thinking specifically, but not exclusively, of the ongoing collaboration with IEIA, UFI and EEIA, also locally with AUMA, IAEE, AEFI, UNIMEV, AEO and the projects in place with our “cousins” from IFES, ​​representing the interests of other Service Providers.

The consequences of Covid-19 have meant that IELA is working on rethinking operations on the global exhibition business mode. During the next six months, we will concentrate on accompanying our members in this time of transition.


What is the one thing IELA would have done differently at the outset of the pandemic? And one best bit of advice received/given?

As an association event organiser, it would have been helpful back in February to have the Zoom and online-event-design expertise the team has today. We had to cancel the Operations Summit in Bangkok but we let the 100 students benefit from the expertise, allowing them to participate in the online education programme.

The best bit of advice received? I think our #TOGETHERSTRONG. campaign, projected by our executive officer Elizabeth Niehaus, has been a source of considerable inspiration and resilience globally. The campaign showed how the industry can stand together and remain positive. The only way to overcome a challenge is by looking ahead, sticking together.


Guido Fornelli is IELA chairman, and managing director at Expotrans S.p.A, Italy.