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The sensitive subject of venue quality

Paul Woodward on controversy and the drive to boost global venue quality.

It’s not often that I get shouted at during an UFI event. At our recent Open Seminar in Asia, hosted by BIEC in Bangalore, however, one of our speakers really touched a raw nerve.

Former UFI president and JWC principal Jochen Witt, building on a theme he touched on briefly at last year’s Seoul congress, had been proposing a venue rating scheme. Rarely has a presentation at an UFI meeting generated such heat.

The concern was that rolling up the ratings of individual venues into country or regional averages was not a fair reflection on what is really happening on the ground. That may well be so and there are certainly some fine venues in both India and Africa, the two regions that fared worst in Witt’s analysis. But, there is clearly much to be done to offer our clients the quality experience they expect.

Modern and well-managed venues such as BIEC in Bangalore and Expocentre in Noida show what can be done. As we also know, there are several facilities in South Africa run to high international standards.

But as organisers follow their clients into these regions, as well as the Middle East, Latin America and some parts of eastern Europe, they are faced with a number of venues which simply don’t meet anything recognisable as acceptable standards. Not only does this affect the reputation of the companies and events they organise, it poses at times a significant risk to the health and safety of participants.

So, there is clearly a job to be done in helping to raise standards. UFI has highlighted the good work done by the companies behind the G-Guide in providing guidance on international standards.

There is also much to be done in staff and management development. In a market such as China where over 100 new venues have been built in recent years, there is a massive shortage of experience and well-trained venue managers.

Venue quality is not just an issue for emerging markets. I have been having some very interesting discussions in western Europe in recent months with venue managers who are under a lot of pressure to invest heavily in upgrades.

They and the organisers using their venues are being held to higher and higher standards by users regarding the quality of visitor experience.Whether this relates to connectivity, catering or convenience, big money may be involved.

Although we are likely now past the period of massive space expansion, venue owners are going to be ploughing significant investment into their facilities, hoping that a reasonable return on investment can be achieved from increased usage and, possibly, fees.

Of course, the lowest standard of venue is no venue at all and there are still markets where organisers have to improvise in order to stage exhibitions.

We all know the challenges of venue development: land costs and the fact that many other forms of commercial property offer developers better returns mean that some form of government intervention is almost always required. Ensuring that senior government officials understand the value of exhibitions is then critical.

So there are clearly a number of very important roles for an organisation such as UFI in relation to venue standards: lobbying where necessary for new facilities; helping to define acceptable operational standards and facilitating the education of tomorrow’s leaders. 

This was first published in issue 2/2014 of EW. Any comments? Email Annie Byrne