Interview with Kiriakos Pozrikidis, CEO of TIF-HELEXPO on the future of the exhibition industry, the future of trade shows, and how they greeted the “new normal” at TIF-HELEXPO.

“trade fairs will play an important role in the recovery following the pandemic”

Q: How do you personally perceive the cancellation of trade shows?

Exhibition centres are more than just pillars of economic growth. They are structures that reflect social developments and which are ready to contribute decisively during periods of crisis. Exhibition and congress activity is not insulated from the current dramatic and global juncture, the COVID-19 pandemic, a singular event in the past 100 years. Throughout its long history, TIF-Helexpo has succeeded in operating under exceptionally difficult conditions, displaying resilience and responsibility towards its visitors, customers, and partners. Determining the losses from the suspension of exhibition activities obviously has a much broader economic impact. The “day after” for the exhibition industry will certainly be safer than the day before, but it is still unclear under what circumstances exhibitions will recommence.

Q: How has your company adapted to the new normal?

Since March 2021, the Greek exhibition industry has come to a complete stop, following state orders to suspend all relevant activities. TIF-Helexpo had, by then, very successfully completed most of its exhibition programme for the first half of 2020 (the Agrotica, Detrop Boutique, Artozyma, and Athens International Jewellery Show exhibitions had been held). I believe that it is irrelevant to discuss holding exhibitions with physically present guests before the end of the first half of 2021, and only if the coronavirus vaccination schedule moves ahead smoothly.

TIF-Helexpo is still intensely active with regards to recommencing exhibitions and congresses, as well as implementing the major restoration project of the Exhibition and Congress Centre of Thessaloniki. The revitalisation project has drawn the interest of the crème de la crème of leading architecture firms international. Its design will include the most modern developments in this sector, leading to the implementation of a bioclimatic construction project of the highest aesthetic value, respectful of the environment and the city, which will harmoniously blend into the vision of the bodies and citizens for a Thessaloniki of the future. The project includes the creation of an open green space of approximately 15 acres, suitable for recreation and outdoor cultural uses.

Q: Is it possible to use the exhibition spaces for other purposes when there are no trade shows or events?

The pandemic made it clear that exhibition facilities are not cut off events impacting society. They are a “living cell” with a contribution to every aspect of human activity. In that context, the International Exhibition Centre and TIF-Helexpo have used all their available infrastructure and means at their disposal to support and facilitate the healthcare system, making a striking social impact during this unprecedented health crisis. Despite the disruption of all exhibition activities due to SARS-Cov-2, the exhibition body did not remain inert. It made available its facilities, located at a critical geographic point, for a series of services and actions related both to the Health sector and social contribution in general.

Thus, one of the two mega vaccine centres in Greece has been hosted for some time at the Thessaloniki International Exhibition Centre (the other is hosted in the Helexpo Maroussi exhibition centre in Athens). 108 vaccination lines are located in pavilions 13 and 15. At the same time, TIF-Helexpo also houses the Hellenic National Public Health Organisation mobile labs, with a fleet of 35 vehicles. Meanwhile, beyond the health aspect, the International Exhibition Centre of Thessaloniki also hosts purely social actions, while over the past months, TIF-Helexpo provided equipment to Thessaloniki hospitals.

Photo Credit: TIF-Helexpo

Q: What trade shows are you planning for this year, given that the epidemiological situation will be favourable?

The 85th Thessaloniki International Fair, which will be held from 11-19 September 2021, is the first exhibition event of the national exhibition body for the current year, while during September, Thessaloniki Helexpo Forum will also be organised. The honoured country at the 85th TIF will be France. After the 85th TIF, the following exhibition events have been scheduled:

– The 12th ‘Zootechnia’ International Trade Fair on Livestock and Poultry from 30 September to 3 October 2021 at the Thessaloniki International Exhibition Centre
– The Beyond 4.0 International Innovation & Technology Event from 14-16 October
– The 36th Philoxenia International Tourism Fair at the Thessaloniki International Exhibition Centre from 12-14 November
– The 5th Art Thessaloniki International Contemporary Art Fair at the Thessaloniki International Exhibition Centre from 25-28 November

Q: Trade shows have incredible multiplicative effects. Is the general public or government currently aware of these effects?

It is clear that the disruption of exhibition activities had negative side effects for the entirety of the local and national economy. From the construction and supply sectors to tourism and the broader supply chain, it is well known that exhibitors operate as a catalyst and multiplier for the entire economy. The recovery of the exhibition sector is also affected by its funding support, in order to be able to absorb the losses of this period, while also preparing to successfully respond to the new challenges and demands of our times. TIF-Helexpo has made use of funding tools in the framework of the state’s support measures for all businesses.

The exhibition sector has submitted a series of specialised support proposals to the competent government agencies, and we are in continuous communication and discussions regarding their implementation. There is no question that the exhibition industry will play a leading part in getting the economy back on track towards a new growth model that will be safe for all.

Photo Credit: TIF-Helexpo

“Exhibition activities with physical presence are irreplaceable”

Q: Can you give our readers your perspective on the exhibition sector in the global market?

Currently, exhibitions internationally are searching for a point from which to restart and regain balance. It all comes down to the vaccines, and as soon as exhibition events commence, even at a slow pace, there will be more. Exhibition activity is inseparably connected to event tourism, which is very important but requires a different strategy than the rest of tourism. According to data from the Union des Foires Internationals, in 2020 exhibition activity fell to 1/3 of previous years, a turnover of 158 billion Euros was lost, along with 2 million jobs, and 260 million Euros in contracts of companies that were to participate in fairs that never took place. It makes sense that this loss had a direct and indirect impact on tourism, as well as on local economies in the areas where the exhibition centres are located and active. It will take a few years to absorb these losses, but I am optimistic, and I believe that as an industry, and as businesses, we will emerge stronger from this adventure.

Q: Are virtual trade shows comparable to classic trade shows?

Exhibition activities with a physical presence are irreplaceable, but at the same time, hybrid exhibition events are expected to play an increasingly important role internationally. Hybrid events, which combine digital interaction with a limited presence following a strict protocol, is already a reality for exhibition organisations, which are trying to respond to the challenges of the pandemic, while also satisfying their customers’ needs. It is obvious that trade fairs will play an important role in the recovery following the pandemic, but they must change. Every exhibition organiser must prepare a digital proposal for the market. The digital part of our activity will not disappear following the pandemic. It will remain and cover, for example, the needs of individuals who cannot travel and be physically present.

However, digital exhibitions do not have a secondary impact on the local economy or local growth. The exhibition centre is more than an economic infrastructure. There is a social aspect to it. Exhibitions with a physical presence will never be replaced because they have the absolute advantage of meeting all five senses of visitors. Digital tool penetration in the congress and exhibition sector had already been a reality prior to the pandemic. The digital part is important and has become even more important now. During a period of normality, it will have an increased role in event organisation, but it will supplement physical interaction, providing more opportunities.

Q: Who could be hired at this moment at your company? What would they have to showcase at the job interview?

Right now, due to the pandemic and the lockdown, we are not hiring. In any case, TIF-Helexpo is still interested in specialised executives with experience in organising exhibitions and congresses, individuals who can comprehend market conditions at any given moment and adapt the exhibition product correspondingly.


Q: High Tech or High Touch?

High Touch.
An exhibition event is the combined result of many different factors. Exhibitions are not merely commercially important. They play a unique role in developing human relationships, especially between peoples from different continents and areas.