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  • Antony Reeve-Crook

Globalisation and beyond; the role of international exhibitions

It's that time of year again, when the international exhibition community gathers to shout loudly and proudly about the work we're doing to bring markets together from the celebrated annual soapbox that is Global Exhibitions Day.

And after a quick flick through the papers, you’d be forgiven for thinking there’s never been a better time to do so.

I recently had the pleasure of meeting Stephen Hawking at the Royal Society in London, where he spoke to a small assembly of scientific and trade writers about the need for increased funding, collaboration and above all awareness for the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) industries.

During the gathering it became clear that there is a very real fear that funding for, and progress made by, collaborative international science projects is at risk from political events such as the UK’s withdrawal from Europe, or Trump’s departure from the Paris Agreement.

But exhibitions, the trade events that bring industries and companies together, aiding innovation and increasing opportunity for all in attendance, are there to help.

The work our industry does enables organisations around the world to develop international influence by operating on an international playing field. By attending the events we create, they are given a platform that enables collaboration on their own terms.

Global Exhibitions Day can barely be mentioned without a nod to the far greater topic of globalisation. Our shows enable exhibitors to expand internationally, pure and simple. Politics can be left at the door; once exhibitors and visitors enter the show floor all attention is drawn to seeking out partners and becoming mutual beneficiaries of cross-border enterprise.

And exhibitions do this in a very particular, almost reactionary way.

In his latest book, Thank You For Being Late, New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman, writes:

“Just as the climate is changing and weather circulates differently, Globalization is reshaping how fast ideas circulate and change. And that is now posing some real adaptation challenges. As a result of all the accelerating flows, we are seeing contact between strangers on steroids today – civilisations and individuals encountering, clashing, absorbing, and rejecting one another’s ideas in myriad new ways – through Facebook, video games, satellite TV, Twitter, messaging apps, and mobile phones and tablets.

“Some cultures, societies and individuals are predisposed to absorbing contact with strangers, learning from them, synthesising the best, and ignoring the rest. Others, more brittle, are threatened by such contact, or easily humiliated by the fact that what they thought was their superior culture must now adapt and learn from others.”

Exhibitions slow this process down and give everyone a (more or less) level playing field on which to meet face to face, just as they always have done.

I'll get another chance to hear from Hawking at the upcoming science and rock music festival Starmus 2017, in Trondheim, Norway. I'll be sure to bring back stories on the role globalisation plays in all our futures, and on any other subjects I'm intelligent enough to comprehend and share through UFI, as well as trade publications such as Exhibition World and Conference & Meetings World.

Incidentally, Hawking did comment on his recent sobering claim that mankind may have only 100 years left on this planet.

"I am aware there is a good deal of speculation regarding my prediction of our time left on earth," he told us at the Royal Society. "I strongly believe we should begin seeking other planets for habitation. We need to break through the technological limitations keeping us on this planet."

That presents two opportunities to organisers right there. Firstly, make plans for the 2117 edition of your show on the moon or perhaps Mars, and secondly it's time to start an exhibition on interstellar travel and colonisation. Terraformex 2018 anybody?

And as Global Exhibitions Day 2017 #GED17 rolls out across the world, what better time to indulge in some shameless self-promotion and flag up the fact my book, Where Markets Meet: The Story of the Modern Exhibition, produced in association with GED17 organiser UFI, the global association of the exhibition industry, is now available for download on Amazon Kindle.

For those of you interested, the book provides a deep dive into an industry that is more relevant today than ever before, celebrating the showmen and women who for a finite time gather industries together under one roof, buyers, sellers, commentators and all, creating ‘a market in a bubble’ that foments trade and jobs around the world.

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