Comment | The golden age of trade fairs was and is gone – and there seems to be no hope of a return to the old days

The doors of the IFA fair opened last Friday. The last time something similar happened no less than three years ago. A lot has happened in between, and not all of it has been to the benefit of the fair events.

At the time of writing this comment, an IFA event is underway in Berlin. This major entertainment electronics event was held in its full splendor last in 2019. At that time, the number of visitors was around 240,000 and there were just under two thousand different manufacturers. There is already a cautious estimate of the latter figure for this year, it is around 1100. The number of visitors can only be guessed at the moment. However, the situation did not look very good when the doors opened.

Already the preliminary information gave indications that IFA will not be the same. However, it was not possible to conclude from them how small the event has shrunk.

Berlin’s exhibition center is huge in size. Just walking through it can take hours, even if you don’t even stop to look at anything. At best, all these facilities have been practically full. So what used to be really big, awesome, almost overflowing, is now something completely different.

The pandemic period has left really deep marks on events. The IFA fair in Berlin really showed this. The premises of the Berlin exhibition center, if they weren’t downright empty, weren’t missing much.

Fair events originally had a very good idea and a solid starting point. They have been united by the fact that a lot of different actors who have a common interest in one way or another have been packed into one place – this has been the essence of the whole thing. At the fair, you have therefore been able to meet a large number of people at once and see many new products under one roof.

This time, it was noticeable that you didn’t really need to spend a lot of time getting around and getting to know everything interesting. An efficient tourer can go through the main offer of the fair in maybe a day, when there would not have been the slightest hope of this before.

On the other hand, this is also good, people are able to get to know several products at their leisure, come across perhaps completely unknown topics, and there may even be enough time to chat with the presenters. Often times at trade fairs, the schedule is too tight – at least for those who are on the job, and in practice you often only meet people with whom meetings have been arranged in advance.

Are there any more orders for the fair?

It seems badly that the pandemic has accelerated development, and the time of the biggest trade fairs is inevitably coming to an end.

Although in principle it could still work, even in the aftermath of the pandemic, there is still a risk of gathering large masses from different parts of the world in one, cramped space. Information travels more reliably without press conferences organized at trade fairs.

For years, the trade fair has been, at least for journalists, an important meeting place and at least some kind of source of information. This is why I myself have been traveling to trade fairs for well over twenty years, including the first time at the IFA event in 2004. Now I guess the countdown to even the biggest events has started.

At least in this scarcity of what Europe’s largest consumer electronics event had to offer this year, there is not much in the way of a bright future. Several well-known manufacturers were absent – a pity, because in the post-pandemic period, the need for different encounters is at least temporarily quite great. At the same time, individual meetings and events take on a much bigger role – this is something that the biggest companies have been looking for for years. However, in terms of consumer needs and the free flow of information, the direction of development may not be the best possible.

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