A few days ago, I arrived at Düsseldorf Airport. Those who have been there before know that Düsseldorf Airport is one of the major German airports, always busy, and a hub for further travel into Germany and Europe. Going to drupa, you remember the endless cues waiting for taxis, shuttle busses, and all the people you meet that you haven't seen in a while. You remember that every fourth year the printing industry met in Düsseldorf during the opening hours and then the lively afterlife in the old town, Alt Stadt.
You, of course, also know that Messecenter Düsseldorf has postponed the 2020 show to 2021 - but I can't help thinking - and I know the good people at drupa don't like me writing this - how things in just 230 days should revert to normal. The airport was like a windy ghost town in an old American Western - empty, with almost all shops closed, restaurants left with tables not even cleaned up in the once busy food court. The few people you met were wearing face-masks. Still, the skepticism in the eyes of the people you met, avoiding even eye-contact, looking away to avoid potential contact, was proof to me of how much the pandemic has already influenced our lives.
Yesterday it was September 1st. Eight months from now, drupa will open the doors for several hundred thousand people. Drupa communication is all about safety, health measures, and well - for me - a kind of time pocket where the new reality has not yet been absorbed. To me, it seems that drupa communication is on 'autopilot.'
#drupafacts, drupa global trend reports - well, they refer to the COVID-19 but continues to deliver trends and graphs based on 2019 numbers.
With the COVID-19 being a fact, the historical data can't be used to forecast purchasing behavior, technology changes/trends, and you can even ask if the number of printing companies asked offers a useful overview? With one million printing companies globally, the minimal number of printing companies surveyed may give minimal insight into reality?
The situation now is entirely different from before, and we are at a new starting point.
I want drupa to happen, and, of course, you can close the eyes for the situation right now, and hope that the pandemic will be nothing but a moment in time. Maybe the COVID-19 is then history, and there may be even an effective vaccine, but what if there isn't?
At some point in time, drupa will have to make the tough decisions about drupa 2021. Who will take responsibility for a tradeshow where at least two problems are real: will there be any visitors? Will the decease be a potential threat?
August 31st was when exhibitors had to confirm their floor space for the 2021 edition.
Screen has announced that they have withdrawn from drupa - adding that to companies like Xerox, Heidelberg, Komori, Manroland, Bobst, and more - it must be a challenge for the ones still committed to the 2021 edition.
Whether drupa refunds the already paid money, I don't know. Still, one thing is the exhibition space cost; another is the price for hotels, transportation, equipment, marketing, food - all the things that make drupa, drupa.
The cost is one thing - the more important thing is, of course, the value.
Regardless of the cost, most will likely compare this number to the number of visitors, leads, closed sales, etc. That price is split between the number of visitors. Will there be 300.000, 200.000, 100.000, or less?
One of the things everybody - including drupa - must stress - what if?
What if drupa 2021 has to be canceled - then what? Everybody will understand that COVID-19 is still to blame, but what about the future?
Last week, we visited both Koenig & Bauer and Heidelberg, and both have demo/experience centers that clearly show that both companies don't NEED a tradeshow. Whatever size booth they may have, it will never be big enough to cover everything they do. Heidelberg made it clear that the money spent on drupa could do better. On the other hand, Koenig & Bauer state that drupa is necessary for the entire industry - what do you think?
The large vendors can easily attract enough customers, press, and prospects to their events, so the vendors who will 'suffer' the most are most likely the smaller ones.
As I have written before, the vital question to ask is what to expect from a post-COVID-19 tradeshow. All vendors we have spoken to underscore that virtual is here to stay. They also emphasize that the 'virtual' is not replacing but complimenting. PRINTING United and NAPCO have moved into the virtual space offering alternatives. FESPA, Label Expo, and drupa haven't offered any virtual alternatives. All have stressed the importance, but without really stressing why these shows are important, and maybe even more for who?
Maybe the shows are most important for the organizers? Maybe PSP's are too busy focusing on survival, new jobs to care about tradeshows? Perhaps vendors have found out that they CAN sell new equipment without tradeshows? We have talked to many vendors, and they all see increasing order intakes - and I have not heard any of the vendors saying that the lack of sales is because of the lack of tradeshows - all blame it on lower demand for print - and the COVID-19, of course.
As mentioned, I hope drupa will take place in 2021. Still, I believe it's important to start considering what kind of tradeshows we want in the future, what alternatives can support the communication about products, education, technology, etc.
When I look at the airports, hotels, city centers I have visited the past weeks in Germany - it seems completely unlikely that drupa CAN take place in only 230 days. Will the vendors take the risk and invest in a mega-tradeshow? Will visitors dare to attend? Will there be a need? When must the decisions about the tradeshows in 2021 be taken? Will we again see reluctance from the organizers about the decisions? And last but not least - who will take on the responsibility for having a mega-show despite all the good intentions, measures, etc.?
I have now been to Germany in three days. Wearing the face-mask in public transportation, at restaurants, in shopping malls, for just a few hours is simply terrible - imagine being at a nine-days show in Düsseldorf requiring wearing a face-mask? I must pass; that is not for me.