Ahead of Conventa 2022, Kongres Magazine chatted with the stars of the Meetings Star influencer selection. Pioneers and trailblazers, these influencers facilitate the meetings industry’s development. Danka Selić, CEO of Belgrade Fair, discussed the future of trade shows and the perils of new technology.

Last year’s selection of influencers by Kongres Magazine marked the eighth year of the distinguished project. The selected influencers are trailblazers in their respective fields and help co-create the regional meetings industry. Kongres Magazine’s selection is, in a way, an overview of who is who in the industry.

Q1: Live meetings are coming back. What is your take on the current situation, and what is your prediction for this year?

They are coming back, and that is excellent news for the Belgrade Fair and the tradeshow industry as a whole. In addition, the number of new people interested in the fair “technology” of promoting products, goods and services is increasing.

However, the two-year covid-pandemic left too deep a mark on the business feeling, thinking and crisis logic of both current and potential users of fair services for them to return to the previous state with full confidence in their own and our strengths. The Ukrainian crisis, with its global consequences, further dampened the growing optimism, but not to the extent that it would cancel the trend of returning to what we are talking about. All post-covid fair events, which we have organised either as our own or by offering logistical support, have been rated highly by exhibitors and business partners alike. Thus, there is no reason to doubt the autumn part of the fair program, which is more than extensive and promising; on the contrary.

Q2: How do you see the future of digital, hybrid and metaverse events?

During the coronavirus pandemic, many, even the largest and richest fairs, tried to save themselves by transferring the trade show content to virtual and online platforms. However, I don’t know if any such event was recognised as a success or persisted in that way. It turned out that even the cancellation or postponement of some traditional fair events in the post-covid period was due to a failed attempt with online presentations or the non-acceptance of such a non-organic transformation.

The future of the formats and technologies you mention is largely already present in the world in which we directly or indirectly live. However, I don’t think that makes the issue any less futuristic, and we will have to wait for the answer for some time. In the context of the fair industry, my perspective implies that it is less about technical and technological and more about a kind of civilisational aspect, which includes sociological, political, social, demographic, and global economic and development moments.

To put it bluntly, I advocate that the fair industry has a real chance of surviving for quite a long time, maybe half a century, maybe less, but it will not disappear by melting into the formats you listed, but by the logic and necessity of civilisation’s moving forward. It has existed for more than half a millennium in this almost unchanged format. And digital, hybrid, metaverse or some other events, the formats of which we are not yet familiar with or have not even been invented yet, will develop as an autonomous fact and phenomenon, in its psychological essence different from the classic fair organisation and promotion, albeit their goals may be essentially the same. It is possible that one or the other option will “help” each other as an auxiliary tool or an additional technical-technological and organisational bonus, but I do not believe that they will ever become one. Respecting the power of civilisation, I believe that the future leads to a non-social, virtual world, even a world represented by events in the aforementioned formats and technologies, but which will no longer be called or described as “fair”. Those two categories will have completely different contents.

Photo Credit: Belgrade Fair

“Respecting the power of civilisation, I believe that the future leads to a non-social, virtual world.”

Q3: We are living in uncertain times; in the past two years, we have learned how to cope with a crisis caused by the spread of the coronavirus, and we have found ourselves amid a war recently. How do you face such crisis situations?

Harder than it looks from the side. Some of the important specificities of the industry to which we functionally belong are direct communication, relative mass character and internationalism. Both crises deeply affected each of these three elements of communication through fair format. At the same time, it seems to me that it is impossible to preventively prepare for neutralising the undermining of any of these factors, especially not all of them together. And “only” the international aspect of this industry, in all its manifestations, is sufficient justification that it is impossible to fight against some global plagues only with one’s own strength and individually, but extensive support and compassion of the state and society is needed. For example, the extensive state support to most of the largest European fairs speaks of this, in order to overcome the covid-crisis not only in an elementary way but also with dignity and to avoid any kind of collapse.

Q4: What does the future bring for the meetings industry in the next decade? Which challenges should we address immediately?

It seems to me that uncertainty and unpredictability are both the biggest enemies and challenges that await the classic fair industry and in the same context, the convention industry in the foreseeable future. These are activities and concepts that require comprehensive preparation and, therefore, stable and predictable working conditions. And such conditions are possible only if all other general state and social parameters are stable – economy, traffic infrastructure, society, all forms of public life, even its cultural, sports, tourist or even political segment. All the more, the anticipation of the consequences of economic and social developments in this activity is of greater importance than in some other economic sectors. In addition to that, the convention industry is, due to its own specificities, perhaps even more sensitive to various turbulences than the classic trade fair industry.

Q5: How do you keep up with the changes transforming the business world, particularly in event organising? What is your advice for our readers?

The organisation of events and fairs, conventions, sports, cultural and other similar mass gatherings are just an obvious example of this and a distinctly multidisciplinary matter. They require a permanent and continuous analysis of one’s own actions and performance, but no less insight into the effects, precedents and examples of good practice from the experiences of similar or even better competitive cases.

However, all that is not enough if you do not work enough on yourself, on your own improvement, education, ability to communicate in different situations and with different profiles of people and, what I especially emphasise – general culture and information. The latter is all the more important because we belong to a branch with a big international reputation.

Photo Credit: Belgrade Fair

“Nothing is more important than the constant enrichment of the content of events.”

Q6: Will corporate social responsibility continue to be discussed as a priority at events instead of topical issues, such as climate change or organising events sustainably?

In essence, it will be discussed as long as something is imposed as a priority by individual initiatives or consensus. On a broader international level, which automatically reflects on our activity, the issue of priorities, especially global ones, is debatable and subject to majorisation and relativisation. We should not forget, for example, that at the same event, there can be representatives of the essentially smaller part of the world who claim that the problem with hunger, drinking water and health in the world is conditioned by climate change and the larger part of the world who claim that the same problem existed long before the delegation of climate change as a cause and that all this is emphasised not for the sake of global altruism and betterment for all, but for one’s own profit, defence of dominant positions and denial of one’s own guilt for the condition in which humanity finds itself. That is why potential prejudging of priorities is always on the border of bureaucratic phraseology and really good ideas. The role of every organiser, initiator or mediator is all the more responsible.

Q7: Which trend inspires you the most, and where do you see immense potential for event organisers?

Most event organisers will say there is probably no huge undiscovered potential for event organisers. And I would rather say that this potential, except in rare “revolutionary” situations and with ingenious organisers, is found in small moves and fulfilling the wishes and expectations of service users or event participants. I think that, of course, if it is not a strictly formal event, service users and participants expect something either better or different than at home or in another place. It can be a barely visible little thing in the organisation, the type and method of the offer, the approach and the method of communication, and what we considered very important and inevitable is assessed as a redundant and imperceptible effort.

Of course, nothing is more important than the constant enrichment of the content of events, better organisation, technical-technological innovations that are in trend on a global level, and similar.

Q8: What perils do new technologies adopted during the corona crisis hide?

During the coronavirus pandemic, new technologies showed some of their great advantages, and were of irreplaceable help in the functioning of society and the state as a whole, but also showed that they could be a potential source of additional alienation and stratification of social and private being on various grounds, depending on the method, purpose and implementation character. If, in some way, they were able to help, for example, some segments of the convention industry with various internet, digital and other platforms and social networks, they did not help the fair industry. If one can speak of a danger at all, it is threatened due to uncritical and indiscriminate use as the main, not auxiliary means and method, as a definitive replacement of something that by its nature is not replaceable in such a way, without proper procedure, verification and research.

Q9: What should the meetings industry do to attract talented individuals among its ranks?

First of all, to promote itself as a premium school for privileged functioning in a powerful, rich, but also the demanding and unpredictable world, in an international context that becomes a basic platform for personal promotion in various globally profitable sectors – IT, ecology, medicine, climate change, industry entertainment, tourism… congress tourism, by definition, implies further education and training. Those who cannot be attracted by such an “offer” should not be attracted.

Q10: Have you noticed that work within the industry is not as desired among the younger generations? What could be the reason behind a significant shortage of staff?

I believe that the reasons are listed in the previous question. In order for an individual to receive all the benefits that come their way by working in the convention industry, they need to continuously invest in themselves.

Q11: What is your recommendation for young colleagues starting their professional path?

Footballers have special praise for someone who is fearless, doesn’t fear the opponent and doesn’t spare himself: one puts his head where others can’t even set foot.

I would paraphrase it like this: go in for it with your head, make a difference!

Q12: What is a good practice case in 2022, in your opinion?

Let it be just “local patriotism”: after the struggle for survival in the time of the corona pandemic, in this year 2022, when we celebrate the great jubilee – 85 years of existence, the effort of the Belgrade Fair to gather and return exhibitors and associates, shaken by all the adversities brought by the pandemic, even at the cost of new losses and own joint costs. We consider it a quality investment in a common better future.

Find out more about Belgrade Fair here

Conventa Week 2022