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UFI gathers global exhibition community for record-breaking all-digital 87th Congress

The 87th UFI Global Congress opened in digital-only format, 16 November, with record numbers of delegates signing up to network and take part in a range of sessions. Key regional content is streamed this year to take account of respective time zones.

UFI president Mary Larkin welcomed delegates and Dr Florence Eid-Oakden, CEO and chief economist of Arabia research and strategy, opened up with a keynote on the global and economic outlook.

There was also a morning Zoom networking session, where UFI staff chatted with delegates informally about the content and procedure of what is a very special type of congress this year.

As UFI CEO and MD Kai Hattendorf noted, there is no perfect online-only formula, but UFI has built up good experience with its UFI Connects series of over 35 sessions in recent months. He said the association would embrace a situation that was both “exciting and frightening” and, like colleagues who delivered the recent ICCA and AIPC annual congresses, take from best practice.

The digital-only UFI Congress was Plan D, Hattendorf noted, as the UFI team had worked on three previous possible formats as the situation with Covid changed around the world.

Enrico Gallorini, CEO at GRS Research and Strategy, shared some research on future trends and went on to point out that technology and engagement were the elephants in the room to be addressed in terms of negotiating the challenges now presented. The ‘whale’ in the room, joining the 'elephants', according to Gallorini, was now the monetising of digital events.

The situation could be viewed as a chance to refresh, Gallorini said. “There will be fewer companies involved in future and less money available for the industry to work with,” he added and painted a vision of the future of events: “It will not be the strongest nor most intelligent that will survive, but the most adaptable to change."

Gallorini added that the model of exhibitors on one side and visitors on another would change and he saw a fresh vision of the events business platform with no more duality of ‘exhibitors and visitors’ but rather a co-collaboration where there would be no single touch point. The new algorithm he said would see the role of the exhibition change to be one of providing the architectural resources for a new ecosystem.

“Our industry has to think not just as business enabler now but as a market oracle,” he said in closing.

The 87th UFI Global Congress runs until 19 November. Check the UFI website for full details. www.ufi.org