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November 21, 2008

Cliff Wallace:Facing the challenges ahead

The past president of UFI, the Global Association of the Exhibition Industry, highlights significant issues facing the sector in a speech delivered at the UFI General Assembly. Looking at the current financial crisis, no industry or service provider can hope to escape completely unscathed. It must be patently clear to even the most optimistic among us that the critical issues of today's global economy are in fact issues of survival. However, there are many issues that should have concerned us even when times were good. Triple whammy There are three major challenges facing the industry today. First, the pressure of rising airfares and environmental concerns. which impact business and personal travel patterns, has obvious implications for the world of exhibitions. A second issue relates to global and local security. While spiralling costs associated with securing venues and protecting clients is an issue, the real problem facing the industry is that the world is becoming increasingly risk averse and fearful. The final challenge is that presented by the impact of electronic communications. At any given moment there are many millions of people around the globe who are sharing information through electronic communication. Contrary to earlier notions, this rich flow of information is not drowning people in ‘information overload’. This instant communication capability, and the increasing technological facility that goes with it, is in fact the greatest challenge to any industry that depends on ‘live’ attendance. Paradox and change I am convinced that today’s exhibition industry is facing a world of paradox. We have more freedom, but tighter security; more choice, but sharply contracting discretionary dollars; more global knowledge, but less knowledge of our neighbours. In a world of rapidly changing ideas, applications and technologies, the exhibition industry is in danger of greying out and failing to convince the young. We can't think alone – we need to think along with each other and with leaders from the industries and sectors we serve. As exhibition professionals we have a responsibility to the future of our industry to think ahead, not incrementally any more, but in a spirit of creative disruption. I pledge to work closely with UFI to develop creative and dynamic solutions.
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