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"ISH is an economic driving force"

Wolfgang Marzin, president and chief executive of Messe Frankfurt, explains in a Q&A how important it is to hold the sanitary and HVAC event ISH in March 2021.

President and chief executive of Messe Frankfurt Wolfgang Marzin

Can you tell us something about the current state of planning for ISH 2021?

The current situation shows precisely how important real meetings between people actually are. ISH in March 2021 will be the first major sanitary and HVAC event to have been held since the outbreak of the coronavirus. After months of stoppage in the trade fair business, now the industry has a significant need to see new products and to do business, but in particular to gain new contacts again in personal meetings. It is precisely in times like these that trade fairs are vital business platforms to boost the economy. The business urgently needs these platforms now, in order to get going properly again. Even – or perhaps especially – under the restrictions which we may have.

ISH is and will remain the most important venue for personal and business meetings in the sanitation, heating and ventilation industry. Now that all sanitary and HVAC platforms have been cancelled for 2020 both in Germany and Europe, ISH will enjoy a significantly greater importance. The ISH team is working at high pressure to make ISH a success. There exists a great need for communication with exhibitors because there is major uncertainty about how the safety and hygiene regulations can be put into practice.

So what are your expectations?

I am an optimist, but also a realist. On the current showing, trade fair operations will be starting again at our Fair & Exhibition Centre in Frankfurt am Main with the Book Fair. Taking into account, of course, the current measures governing hygiene and protection. Holding trade fairs will also depend on how rules are applied to air travel, rail travel and public transport and how far travel restrictions will be lifted. In the case of ISH, we are assuming that European travel at least will be as possible as it is now. Thus visitors from Germany and Europe will be able to travel safely to ISH. Especially for visitors from outside Europe and for those who nevertheless do not want to travel to Frankfurt, at Messe Frankfurt we are developing digital offers, which will be available during the ongoing event – as so-called hybrid forms – and in the follow-up to the fair. In this way we shall bring these visitors at least virtually to the event – thus extending its reach for the exhibitors.

I am a trade fair man through and through and so am perfectly sure that the business economy needs trade fairs in order to market its products. You experience these products, when they are live and on the spot, in a quite different way. Not everything can be reproduced digitally. The focus will always be on personal meetings and here we are making the right preparations to comply with all the measures governing hygiene and social distancing.

The majority of exhibitors and visitors at ISH have always been very strongly national and European in their composition. Given the overall lack of trade fairs this year in Germany and abroad, exhibitors urgently need a suitable platform again to present themselves. So we hope that as many as possible will be attending. Bookings are definitely looking good. On the visitor side of course it is hard to forecast how the situation will be in the individual countries of the world in March 2021. If we take a simplified calculation and use visitors from Germany and Europe at ISH 2019 as a basis, then this would still potentially be 160,000 to 170,000 visitors. I consider this to be realistic, particularly in view of the fact that we shall be launching a large-scale communication campaign to bring the sanitary and HVAC trades to ISH again at an increased level. It may also be interesting to know: during the first SARS pandemic of 2003, no less than 178,000 visitors still came, which amounted to a decline compared with 2001 of some 20,000 visitors. In addition, the latest loosening of travel restrictions for countries outside Europe will also have a positive impact here.

What exactly are the hygiene and social distancing rules?

Messe Frankfurt has drawn up a plan and agreed it with the authorities, covering matters of hygiene, medical questions and organisational measures. The hygiene and safety plan is based of course on the requirements currently in force. No-one can see into the future, nor do I have a crystal ball on my desk. Nevertheless, restrictions are being increasingly loosened, so that we can reasonably assume that fewer conditions will have to be imposed than are currently required.

Overall, the plan is based on three elements: Firstly, social distancing of 1.5 metres, so that the compulsory wearing of masks can be avoided; secondly, an active visitor-management system, which will allow us to control visitor streams better.With regard to the overall number of visitors, due to the size of the Fair & Exhibition Centre we shall have no restrictions.

And thirdly, the hygiene measures. Of course it is obvious that we shall comply with the compulsory measures governing hygiene. And Messe Frankfurt will undertake the provision of visitor data to the authorities in case of contact tracing. This will not be something which the exhibitors will be required to do.

In addition we shall be providing up-to-the-minute information regarding possible revisions on our website:

Moreover all our halls can be supplied with a hundred percent fresh air, so that transmission by aerosols can be reduced as far as possible, or even excluded. Thus the situation inside our halls is basically the same as outside, since the air volume is replaced up to five times per hour, which is not the case in any restaurant or other building. Here the exhibitors from the ventilation industry can show the substantial contribution they are making.

Hand on heart: how realistic is it to hold ISH 2021?

It is understandable that the coronavirus pandemic has destroyed confidence and of course I do not know how things will be in March. But really we can only look positively towards the future. If the situation in March next year should turn out to be exactly the same as today, then I quite definitely expect ISH to take place – under certain conditions, of course. After all, the protection and hygiene plan developed jointly with the authorities will give us an opportunity to hold ISH under the most stringent safety precautions. You can almost say: people will be better protected at the Fair & Exhibition Centre than outside it. Of course there will be cuts on all sides. It will become a different ISH, but it will be a trade fair in which it is still worth participating and still worth visiting.

To hold ISH, we must and will also keep in close mutual contact with ISH's associations – which, as the fair's sponsors, make all decisions with ourselves jointly. At this point I would likewise wish to emphasise that it is important for us to hold leading international trade fairs in Germany. We must get through these difficult times together. Here, I am happy to say, we are clearly aware of the support rendered by the majority in the sector – both nationally and internationally, in trade and in industry.

What if, after all, political conditions should not permit it and the event, due to a second wave of coronavirus, has to be cancelled?

Should trade fairs be prohibited by the authorities or unreasonable conditions be imposed, we shall consult jointly with our partners, in order then to decide in good time what course to take. Should this happen – which we do not anticipate – then the next ISH will not take place until March 2023. There will be no alternatives prior to that date – so much is certain since there is no free timeslot in autumn 2021 at the Frankfurt Fair & Exhibition Centre. In this case Messe Frankfurt will reimburse the stand rents without deductions at the rate of 100 per cent, irrespective of whether the cancellation came from the authorities or whether we have made this decision jointly with our partners.

Allow me, however, to make one thing clear: Yes, for our exhibitors it means a decision with a certain risk factor to it. But then I am always thinking of the tradesmen who all the time have been installing our exhibitors' products directly on their customers' premises. Even during the peak of the coronavirus pandemic they ensured that sales were going well. But we are not taking this decision recklessly. For us, the focus on the health and safety of all persons will always take precedence over all commercial interests. But – a missed chance is gone for ever; opportunities have to be grasped. The national and international sanitary and HVAC industries need a reliable platform – and that is in Frankfurt am Main.

The next edition of ISH will be held from 22 to 26 March 2021 in Frankfurt am Main.

27 July 2020


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