Bologna has Italy’s second-largest trade fair centre and hosts a variety of leading international events. TFI spoke with Antonio Bruzzone, the general director of BolognaFiere.
Mr Bruzzone, BolognaFiere has demonstrated great agility recently. Which of your activities are worthy of particular note?
2018 was an extremely dynamic year for our company, a period in which we consolidated some important acquisitions, further strengthening our international position. I’m referring, in terms of exhibition events, to the recent acquisition of the Health & Beauty Group. That gives us even more prominence in the European beauty and cosmetics market, in which we were already a world leader (in terms of exhibitions and media). The acquisition of the GiPlanet Group underscores our pre-eminent position in the field of exhibition stand services, a field that today represents a strategic feature of our competitiveness.
How did you fare in 2018, and what were the main drivers of growth?
The BolognaFiera Group’s closing balance was around 160 million euros. Our activities in international markets made a decisive contribution to this positive result. Today, a third of our revenues are generated in markets abroad with higher levels of growth. In the publishing sector we launched two new events in 2018, in New York and Shanghai, and we are continuing to expand our activities abroad. We were in fact the first Italian trade fair organisation to export its own events. Our subsidiary BF China is responsible for Asian markets and is involved not only in organising events but also in encouraging and supporting the participation of Asian companies in exhibitions in Italy, as either exhibitors or visitors.
What are your expectations for 2019?
We opened the year with MarcaByBolognaFiere, a private label conference and exhibition, which was held for the 15th time. It was a highly successful event, with an 8 percent increase in exhibition space and a 17 percent increase in the number of visitors from abroad. Almost all of our events are B2B and highly specialised, and most are international leaders in their industries. As a result, there has been steady growth in the numbers of foreign visitors. This is a trend that we hope will continue in 2019. The indicators in terms of exhibitor participation and interest from professional visitors have been positive.
Everyone is talking about digitalisation. Has the behaviour of exhibitors and visitors changed and, if so, what does this mean for BolognaFiere?
Digitalisation processes are an integral part of our activities. Our efforts are focused on offering services to make it increasingly easy to participate in an exhibition: from enquiring about taking part and reserving a stand to organising accommodation in Bologna and, finally, marketing and communications. Our support for visitors is not just limited to helping to organise their visit to the exhibition centre. We also work in synergy with local organisations to promote the city’s cultural heritage and tourist attractions.
BolognaFiere has begun to renovate and expand its exhibition centre. What progress has been made?
We have completed the first phase of our plan in the record time of just 10 months. Last September two new halls, 29 and 30, opened on schedule in time for Cersaie, the international exhibition of ceramic tiles and bathroom furnishings, and fully met the expectations of the first to use them. We are currently in the second phase of the project.
The exhibition centre could be said to be your hardware. How do things look in terms of soft factors? What are you doing to enhance the attractiveness of your events?
When you bring together professionals from a particular industry, besides staging the exhibition itself, it is necessary to stimulate them by providing opportunities for professional training, presentations of innovations or the analysis of economic trends. Our partners in these activities are trade associations, guilds and research institutes (www.bolognafiere.it).
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In the trade fair world data is in most cases still collected on first contact with potential customers - or leads - by manual methods. This can mean that significant data is only captured incompletely or not at all.
Placing certain services for exhibiting at trade fairs in professional hands can save time, money and often also nerves. This approach that will normally also serve to make things more efficient.
There are various fields of expo and event logistics where digital solutions provide noticeable benefits, but they also require an open mind that embraces changes.
How would you like to go straight into an exhibition hall or event venue without first having to get out your mobile phone, look for your ticket or spell your name?