Are convention centres still needed?

Are convention centres still needed?

Without a doubt, the internet has nowadays become the largest, most populous, most accessible, most visible, and most practical convention environment. Online, we can do everything from a simple conference to training courses with hundreds of people plugged into a link that is made available nationally and internationally. All of this with literally just one or two clicks on the part of each of the users connected.

But does this mean that our most important exhibition centres have become white elephants? I somehow doubt it.

It is a fact: on the one hand, the digital universe facilitates the connection, literally, between people. But on the other hand, the complexity of relationships and business in the modern world has increasingly led us to look for collective solutions in environments that ensure us a qualified relationship over and above the time spent on training, qualifications or meetings. After all, can one imagine an exclusively online Book Biennial? Solidarity Fair? Bridal Expo? Fashion Week? International Motor Show?

Let’s face it, no matter how much our eyes have become accustomed to the digital world, there is an analog demand that needs to be met at the event locations.

Let’s look at an example. The same Rio de Janeiro that, about two months ago, held the well-established show Rock In Rio, also received, at the Riocentro Convention Centre, another 680 thousand people at the Biennial. According to Rio de Janeiro’s Strategic Trade Map for 2015-2020, a report prepared by Fecomércio (Trade Federation) and Senac (National Service of Commercial Learning), the commerce, goods, services and tourism sector in the state of Rio de Janeiro generates almost two million formal jobs, which represents more than 40% of the job positions in the state. I don’t think I need to say where the major conventions of these sectors are held.

We know that mega-events such as the World Cup and the Olympic Games are not frequent – on the contrary, some of them represent an “era” that does not return so quickly. But we also know that there are numerous opportunities for reviving and consolidating smaller events. And we also know that, in the same proportion, there are many challenges.

In this sense, recently, many movements have been observed.

In September, the leading figures of the Brazilian Event Organizers Association (ABEOC Brasil) met at the Planalto Palace in Brasília, with the country’s acting-president Rodrigo Maia, to present the sector’s demands, including among others the ending of double taxation and the bidding by technique and price, put forward by the entity as being essential to the industry’s development.

In the same month, practically “inside” the aforementioned Rock In Rio, the Federal Government announced the launch of the Rio de Janeiro a Janeiro [Rio from January to January] program, a schedule of cultural, sports and business events created exclusively to give the economy a boost. Currently, tourism accounts for 4% of the state’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The project is expected to generate 170,000 new job positions at the 100 events scheduled just for 2018 – and it should be borne in mind that one of the five criteria for establishing the project is its long-term maintenance.

What I want to convey with this example is that solutions like the one found in Rio de Janeiro, which is supported by the Federal Government, should be looked for in other markets, including among others the State of Bahia.

Without getting into the controversy or the politics of the topic, and focusing exclusively on the facts, consideration should be given with regard to the impact of closing Bahia’s Convention Centre (CCB) and what the possible alternatives are for preserving the state’s events’ structures.

I admit that it saddened me to read about the impact that this closure has caused us in Bahia. And, at the risk of stating the obvious, I recall that since its injunction in 2015, thousands of direct jobs have been put at risk. In addition, there are the indirect jobs, caused, for example, by the closure of 20 hotels and roughly three thousand bars and restaurants in the city of Salvador.

I would like to draw your attention to an indicator that does not appear in the numbers: in addition to all of the financial weakening, one has to consider the loss of strategic power when the destination does not have any event centres.

And once again without getting into the controversy or the politics, a new convention centre in Bahia will make it possible to revive an economy that has suffered and is still suffering major setbacks outside the leisure tourism’s sectors high season periods.

But it has to be remembered that regardless of the size of the event, the organizing companies need to offer services that convey trust and security. Ranging from the innovation of the technological resources that make it possible to increase the participants’ experience, and including security in terms of structure and a concern in relation to the environmental impact of the events.

All this needs to be in the pipeline for those who want to innovate in the events area​​, taking into account, in addition to their distribution strategy, the profile of the visiting public and the exhibitors, the need for the convention equipment to be regularly updated and maintained, with its structures simultaneously strong and flexible, with all these factors being essential for our industry.


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With 26 years' experience in the Brazilian and international tourism markets, Luciane Leite is the director of WTM Latin America, for REED Exhibitions, which is the world's number one fairs' and events' organizer. Prior to this, she headed up strategies, teams and projects, for organizations such as São Paulo Turismo, BAHIATURSA and the State of Bahia's former Department of Tourism and Culture. With a degree in Tourism and an MBA in Marketing from ESPM (Superior School of Advertising and Marketing) and with a post-graduate course in tourist destinations from George Washington University, this executive also plays an active role in tourism councils and groups, as well as we having been a speaker on matters related to the industry at conferences in a number of countries.

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