Trevor Connell reports on Sydney’s event industry tradeshow.
Sydney’s event industry tradeshows have been around for nearly two decades. But will they survive for another decade?
It was all kicked off by the Sydney Convention & Visitors Bureau with Sydney – Destination One in the cargo bay of the Sydney Cove Passenger Terminal around 1995 or 1996. The SCVB then added Sydney on Sale around 1997, long before businesses started using websites to promote their services. Sydney on Sale (at SCEC) and its associated party (in many different venues) continued to grow in size and popularity.
Then in 2005 Single Market Events launched RSVP, based on their very successful London show, at Wharf 8. After two very successful shows RSVP was forced to move because the Wharf was to be demolished to make way for the Barangaroo development.
A number of industry insiders (Meri Took in particular) suggested to Single Market Events that they should move RSVP to the Royal Hall of Industries and the Hordern Pavilion. The argument being that these are event venues and as such suited the nature of this tradeshow.
However SME moved RSVP to the SCEC, and so RSVP became just another trade show. However it maintained its industry cred with some spectacular Party After Dark events.
Eventually Sydney on Sale was rebranded as the Australian Business Events Expo (ABEE) and RSVP became the Sydney’s Event Showcase – and both were bought by ETF.
Each show probably peaked in around 2007 but as the industry suffered under the Global Financial Crises each was showing signs of stress from 2009.
In 2011 the shows co-located into adjacent halls at SCEC running on the same dates. Each kept their own identity but had a free flow between the halls. This worked quite well and appeared to boost visitor numbers, however the number of exhibitors was starting to drop.
Then with the announcement that SCEC was to close, ETF had to rethink the whole concept. To their credit they did a lot of work talking to exhibitors about the future of the shows. And so the two shows were combined and rebranded as inspire EX (a most uninspiring name) and committed to the temporary Sydney Exhibition Centre @ Glebe Island
Last year ABEE+RSVP had around 230 stands. This year the new combined show only managed 150 and on the Monday there seemed to be very low attendance. ASE asked ETF for attendance figures but they were not forthcoming.
Indeed the founder of Sydney on Sale, BESydney (nee SVCB) didn’t even take a stand this year.
So how did inspire EX work in this temporary venue?
The usual grid structure was broken up to make exploring the show more interesting. This included a central meeting area under a stretch dome and little alcoves around the edges with smaller stands to explore.
The translucent venue roof produces a nice soft light through the exhibition space and as the roof structure will not support rigging the stand designers had to be more creative as they couldn’t hang lighting (or even banners) above their stands. This resulted in some very creative stands by Doltone house and Decorative Events in particular.
Projectors struggled because the venue cannot be blacked out and so LED or LCD screens were the order of the day – however the technical supplier for the seminars didn’t seem to get this message.
Audio is also a challenge in this space – especially as speakers cannot be flown. Likewise all lighting had to go on stands – not ideal.
Getting to the venue proved to be surprisingly easy. Public transport only connects the venue to Darling Harbour via ferry or to Central by bus. However road access from the west was well signposted (from as far out as Iron Cove Bridge) and there is plenty of parking (well there is when there is only one hall in use, I assume it would be a challenge when the whole venue is utilised).
I did feel for the parking attendants and security personnel who were stuck in the rain that continued all day on the day I visited, Monday.
Party After Dark?
Finally the organisers have given up on the off-site party which for the past few years has lost its mojo and become not much more than an industry piss up.
This year a cocktail function kicked in at 5 pm and went through until 7 pm with entertainment. However the New Zealanders jumped the gun by serving some fabulous NZ beverages from 2PM – well I guess that was 5 PM in NZ, so fair enough.
The guests who were there (sheltering from the storm) had a cracking good time will excellent beverages, networking and entertainment. The latter coordinated by Apples and Pears featuring contestants from the TV talent show The Voice (or was X Factor? I can’t tell the difference because I watch neither). But the acts were enjoyable.
Pity the caterers didn’t understand cocktail food. The antipasto tasted great – but antipasto is not finger food and so most of it remained untouched as it was unmanageable without a fork.
Last year Zadro Communications were contracted to promote the show and to facilitate media access to the international speakers, and they did that extremely well. This year ETF did this all in house – there were very few media releases, no facilitated access to the international speaker and no response to emails regarding media services. So I attended as a regular punter and this report is based on that experience.
So in the Google age do we still need an industry trade show?
In one word – yes!
Yes your clients can find you via Google or any number of industry directories. And if they are just looking for a particular product at a particular price point that is sufficient.
So why would they go to a trade show? To be better informed, to talk to the suppliers face to face, and to experience what is on offer.
For a trade show to be interesting it must have intriguing products that customers want to experience. The trade show floor must have a buzz.
But even if all that is there you still have to get the buyers out of their office and into the exhibition – and that is the big challenge. People are time poor, they are under pressure to keep working – not swanning around enjoying themselves.
But are we being too exclusive. These days there are many people who are organising their own events and might just want a caterer, or a venue, or entertainment. So why not open the show up to the public? Run it on a Friday for trade only (with a cocktail party on the show floor at night) and then on a Saturday open it to the public. Just a thought! But it just might save a struggling show. But for this to work it would have to be in an event venue like the RHI/Hordern or Australian Technology Park.
And how about co-locating it with ENTECH. This show is also owned by ETF and features entertainment technology such as lighting, audio and AV systems all of which are integral to most events.
On a side note – this week I visited Integrate at Sydney Showground – this technology show is bigger than it was last year at SCEC and visitor numbers were up on the first day at least. So there is no reason for these trade shows to by shrinking if the right approach is taken.
Please share your thoughts if you attended and if you didn’t attend please share your reasons for not doing so.
And here are some pix of inspire EX and the cocktail party.