Why trade fairs are the platform of the future

Klaus Dittrich, CEO and chairman, Messe München, says the international trade fair industry needs to reinvent itself and IAA MOBILITY 2021 in Munich recently showed where the road is going:


Coronavirus has turned the world and our lives upside down. The consequences of the worst world economic crisis in post-war history will be with us for a long time to come. There can be no ‘business as usual’ . These are, of course, words that can currently be heard in almost all industries.

Suddenly we have to repeatedly question what has been learned and tried, and then consistently rethink and go a new way. This applies in particular to the trade fair industry, which was hit extremely hard by ccronavirus. By the beginning of September, over 4,000 trade fairs had had to be cancelled worldwide. In Germany alone, according to an Ifo study, cancellations of trade fairs due to the pandemic have so far led to an overall economic loss of €40bn.

We are facing enormous challenges, but the times also offer enormous opportunities and I believe that trade fairs can soon become even more important than they were before the pandemic.

Trade fairs can become the platform of the future. And the platform for the future as well. Because trade fairs not only have a great future ahead of them, they are also the ideal platform on which the future can be created.

Many of the central questions that affect us all can and will find new solutions in the competition of ideas and innovations. The IAA MOBILITY 2021, which Messe München launched together with the VDA, provided a good example of this development.

The transformation of the trade fair has to take place in the halls, but also, above all, in the minds.

There is certainly no one correct path for the trade fair industry. The situation will also not be able to change radically overnight. Step by step, try out, adjust again and again, maybe fail, but then learn, move forward and never lose sight of the goal - that is the path we have to go now.

What made the IAA MOBILITY 2021 so groundbreaking? Well, the show had a special role to play because it can be seen as a beacon for the entire trade fair industry. It was one of the first real major events to return since the pandemic and it showed what is possible. In a way, it can be seen as a blueprint that is defined by five essential points:



Quality first. Over the past few months, we developed concepts together with the responsible authorities and tested them at a pilot trade fair in July. So we knew that Germany's 3G approach [Geimpft, Genesen, Getestet - Vaccinated, Recovered, Tested – ed] would lead to a safe implementation of the IAA MOBILITY.

For the future, a basic requirement for us will be that every event is planned individually and the corresponding protection and hygiene concept is adapted to prevailing requirements. However, we are also of the opinion that, in times of the ongoing pandemic and the associated framework conditions, quality must have priority over quantity. In the end, high-quality and safe events are more important than mere visitor numbers.



Platforms vs. halls. Presentation only is a thing of the past. At the new IAA MOBILITY, the future of mobility was illuminated and discussed from various perspectives on numerous platforms and 'conference stages‘.

The platform concept is an essential criterion that characterises post-coronavirus trade fairs: In the future, platforms will enable active participation in trade fair events.

Platforms connect exhibitors and visitors beyond the hall floor. And they enable and intensify the dialogue. And wherever it makes sense, they are available online 365 days a year. Trade fairs that take place only once a year or even only every two years get a permanent digital presence.



The Public is part of it. The IAA MOBILITY offered a completely new trade fair experience thanks to a concept that is unique in the world: It integrated the entire city centre of Munich into the trade fair and allowed everyone who is interested to participate in the 'Future of Mobility‘ experience through various connecting routes. The trade fair extended from the fairground into the city directly to the people. This is how we bring ideas and innovations to the consumer: the future to touch and try out, with industry and consumers at eye level.

This addition to the pure trade fair for a professional audience is no coincidence. The big questions of the future, such as sustainability, digitisation, climate change and mobility are questions that concern everyone and affect the future of us all. That is why everyone should have the opportunity to participate in shaping this future. Well-designed trade fairs can do this.



Connect people to shape the future. Messe München's mission is: 'We bring the new into the world‘. This means that we want to actively participate in shaping the future. Trade fairs can develop enormous power that goes far beyond the presentation of product innovations. They can put issues on the public agenda, drive dialogue and sometimes even change political realities.

The platform of the future also means taking on the role of a thought leader and appearing accordingly with confidence and sovereignty. 'Connecting Global Competence' is a claim and demand of Messe München. But we don't just want to network the specialists with one another. We also want to connect them with all people whose future is being negotiated here. Anyone who wants to bring the new into the world must also have the courage to go completely new ways. This opening up to the people is a vital point for the future credibility and relevance of trade fairs.

We can only tackle the pending problems together. Nobody should be excluded. Critical voices need to be heard, even if it is sometimes uncomfortable. The dialogue that moves us forward is only possible if we share ideas together. It was therefore a matter of course for us that at various IAA MOBILITY events, including the CEO SUMMIT, the critics and opponents of the different ideas should also have their say and actively enter into the dialogue.



Growth with humbleness. A trade fair company is first and foremost a company that is committed to its stakeholders and must operate profitably. However, with growth comes a responsibility that will play an increasingly important role in the future. As an economic engine, trade fairs are also relevant for the location and the region. Every euro of turnover at Messe München generates an additional 10 euros in turnover for third parties - taxi companies, hotels, restaurants, etc.

That is one of the reasons why it was the right decision to let IAA MOBILITY take place. As a smart city, Munich will also benefit sustainably from the newly created infrastructures such as the environmental ‚Blue Lane‘ or the early installed 5G network.

For the future, it will be crucial to balance economic obligations with social responsibility. Climate protection and sustainable action, for example, are anchored at Messe München as central strategic goals of global importance. This is the only way we can credibly stage events such as IAA MOBILITY.


Digitisation is not a substitute for human encounters

Even before the pandemic, we at Messe München put a lot of time and energy into developing digital trade fair formats. A worthwhile investment, not only in the phases when face-to-face events were not possible. The early recognition and use of digital possibilities have made us a pioneer in the industry. So why not rely entirely on digital events in the future?

The answer is clear and has been repeatedly confirmed by many recent studies: There is no substitute for human encounters. Trade fairs live from people, Messe München lives from connecting these people. Networking, new business contacts, business deals, and also the inspiring dialogue - everything is easier face-to-face. That is why, for me, the ideal trade fair of the future is the intelligent combination of the best of both worlds, the smart mix of face-to-face events with digital 24/7 add-ons. An unlimited exchange to shape the future. A starting point was IAA MOBILITY 2021.