AEO Conference News: Morris - 'We desperately need a reality check'

Venues that don't care enough about visitors will flounder, the NEC Group's chief executive warns.

Any other industry facing the deep-rooted problems shared by organisers and venues would be thrown into panic - but the UK exhibition sector is in a terminal state of denial.

This was the damning assessment by NEC Group chief executive Andrew Morris during the AEO conference's final session.

During a panel debate on the merits of exhibitions and issues that the industry faces, he referred to a presentation by Earls Court's in-house organiser Trend & Culture director Mark Rodol and the notion that other media are obsessed with circulation data, whereas exhibitions still debate the value of auditing.

"We as an industry are still too preoccupied with the organiser and exhibitors and we don't care enough about the visitor," Morris said. "We refuse to acknowledge where we're at as a business and we desperately need a reality check, root and branch. I'm really concerned."

The other members of the panel were Emap TPS managing director Alison Jackson, Imago Communictions director Hugh Keeble, Tarsus group managing director Doug Emslie and Mack Brooks Group chairman Stephen Brooks. Morris went on to claim that the launch of the NEC Group's five-year manifesto has shifted its portfolio's emphasis on to caring about the visitor and urged others to follow suit.

Brooks suggested an increase in UK hall space and a growth in consumer awareness are benefiting consumer shows but said it is business to business events that have to become more visitor-led.

Jackson claimed that Emap TPS, which organises the trade events for the giftware market, Autumn Fair Birmingham and Spring Fair Birmingham, has moved from being operationally-led to being marketing focused. But she admitted that as an industry "we just don't love our audiences enough".

She added: "Germany is now waking up to the importance of the visitor as large shows are experiencing dwindling attendance. They've never looked at their visitor offer before. We in the UK have developed a lot further than the German market."

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