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Small signs of a recovery for the €60 bn trade fair industry

by Emanuele Scarci

The recovery of fairs held in Italy follows the trend of Italian economy, showing small signs of a pick-up after the lengthy crisis that deeply affected the trade fair business and reduced the number of players. Today, fairs generate a turnover of €60 billion per annum and ultimately account for 50% of Italian exports.

The latest survey on the trade fair business trend for July-September 2016, conducted by the economic observatory of AEFI (the Association of Italy’s Trade Fairs) shows an overall improvement in terms of exhibitors, visitors and exhibition surface. The number of events is stable.

According to ISFCERT (Institute for the Certification of Trade Fair Statistical Data), by comparing the two latest editions of 37 international events in the first nine months of 2016, exhibition surface shows 3.2% growth, the number of exhibitors have increased by 2.2% (Italians +3%, foreigners +0.8%), visitors by +2.5% (Italians +1.4%, foreigners 6.5%); single-entry daily passes rose 5.4% (Italians +4.9% and +9.4% foreigners).

“Nonetheless, the recession affected everyone, particularly smaller trade fair bodies, forcing some to shut down,” said AEFI President Ettore Riello.

Some shadows on the slow process of recovery are cast by the delicate matter of Fiera Milano, which was involved in a case of Mafia infiltration through one of its subsidiaries. The board of directors of Italy’s leading fair organization has thus resigned, and Fiera Milano is under judicial guardianship.

Riello said the consolidation of the hub uniting Veneto and Romagna, now extended to Arezzo, is a positive development.

“This is the way to go ,” he said. “ Our trade fairs have the capability to further capitalize on the value of their products.”

What about the possibility of extending the Milan-Verona partnership?

“When certain processes are under way, it’s hard to stop them,” he said. “ This is the beginning of a phase of renewal in the trade fair system.”

The research method adopted by Comitato Fiere Industria, the Confindustria agency comprising organizers of international events, is rather different: comparisons are drawn with each event, on a multiannual basis. CFI events in the first half of 2016 saw an increase in exhibition space by 2.6%, in number of exhibitors by 4% (with foreign exhibitors leaping up a good 7.5%). Visitors, on the other hand, have decreased by -0.3%. Foreigners represent 35%.

“These are increasingly international fairs,” said Franco Bianchi, Secretary-General for CFI. “Last year was a year of recovery, after 2015. The latest events, like EIMA for agricultural machinery, EICMA for motorcycles, Pitti, Ideapelle, Cibus and Vinitaly, were very successful; and the number of foreign exhibitors helps us realize the potential of our manufacturing industry. That said, I must needs point out that our figures have not yet gone back to the peak levels of 2008.”