InfoMed interviews Mr Gernot Ringling, Managing Director, Messe Düsseldorf Asia (MDA)
The 10-day online exhibition from 9 to 18 December 2020, which is being held as a digital event for the very first time since its inaugural edition in 1997, will offer visitors a user-friendly sourcing platform featuring 320 exhibitors and an extensive range of some 3,000 products, from pandemic management solutions, diagnostic equipment, and smart care sensors to robotic rehabilitative devices.
InfoMed: How long had Messe Düsseldorf Asia been staging exhibitions and trade shows in Singapore and the region?
Ringling: Messe Düsseldorf Asia is a subsidiary of the Messe Düsseldorf Group in Germany, and has been based in Singapore and active in the region for the last 25 years with a portfolio of trade exhibitions in Southeast Asia that include Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia, Philippines, and Vietnam. Our main industry sectors include machinery, plant and equipment – packaging, printing, plastics, rubber, wire, tube, cables and pipes, foundry and metallurgy technology – medical and healthcare, occupational safety and health, and wines and spirits. Since 1995, Messe Düsseldorf Asia has been strengthening its trade fair portfolio in the region with key exhibitions receiving endorsement and support from various regional government agencies and ministries.
InfoMed: Why did Messe Düsseldorf select Singapore as its Asia HQ?
Ringling: Singapore’s strategic location as the geographic centre of, and gateway to Southeast Asia, a market made up of ten nations and now more than 650 million people – makes it an ideal location. Early on, we recognised the potential of the region as the home to both growing markets and developing production capacity. Southeast Asia offers immense opportunities for companies from around the world, both manufacturers and trading enterprises. With the region’s steady growth fuelled by an increasingly well-educated workforce, a wealth of natural resources, rapid urbanisation and growing infrastructure spending, the Association of Southeast Asia Nations (ASEAN) is projected to become the fourth largest single market in the world by 2030 – putting it behind only the United States, China and the European Union.
InfoMed: What is the largest exhibition or trade show Messe Düsseldorf Asia has staged in Singapore?
Ringling: The largest trade fair in our portfolio is the MEDICAL FAIR series which alternates annually between Singapore and Bangkok, Thailand. Over the years, MEDICAL FAIR ASIA has grown with each edition since it first began in 1997. In 2018, MEDICAL FAIR ASIA was the largest to date, and together with its co-located trade fair – MEDICAL MANUFACTURING ASIA, 1,220 exhibitors from 62 countries participated including representation from 23 national pavilions and country groups. Over three days, the two trade fairs received more than 20,000 trade visitors with more than 40 percent coming from outside Singapore. The comprehensive line-up of conferences and seminars also received record numbers of delegates.
InfoMed: How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected the MICE industry in Singapore, the region and even globally?
Ringling: I think it is fair to say that the MICE industry, globally not just in Singapore, has been one of the most affected sectors by the COVID-19 pandemic; apart from tourism and the aviation sector. International travel restrictions, border control measures, and national restrictions on large-scale events have posed multiple challenges; thus, very few major MICE events were able to take place in the first half of 2020. However, having said that, there have been a few green sprouts of hope in China where trade fairs have gone ahead recently and did quite well in terms of both exhibitor and visitor numbers – which is encouraging for all of us.
As the MICE sector caters to a decidedly international audience, it’s important to note that with the MICE industry at somewhat of a standstill, the ripple effect on related industries and small and medium-sized companies has been quite palpable – from suppliers to hotels to the retail sector, they have all definitely been impacted.
For Singapore, according to the last available MICE figures, published in 2019 for 2018, Singapore’s MICE industry was valued at more than US$2.5 billion; and was predicted to grow by 8 to 10 percent this year, but as expected, it has contracted thanks to the pandemic considerably. On that note, the recent piloting of MICE events in Singapore, subject to attendance caps and the necessary approvals from the authorities have proven to be promising.
InfoMed: Your biggest show, MEDICAL FAIR ASIA is biennial to allow for the complex two-year preparation cycle, so when the pandemic started to close down the world in March and April you must have been mid cycle, how did you cope?
Ringling: The situation has certainly been dynamic and fluid, and we were still hopeful in March to be able to go ahead with a physical trade fair but on a smaller scale, and we had also started looking into a hybrid version with both a digital and physical component for the original September dates for MEDICAL FAIR ASIA. However, it soon became apparent that a physical exhibition was not possible, thus the decision to move the trade fair to December and transition to a fully digital format.
InfoMed: This year, MEDICAL FAIR ASIA, like many MICE events, has had to go digital and be staged online, due to the pandemic restrictions; how did your team cope with the steep learning curve that must have involved?
Ringling: It has been a steep learning curve for all of us, but fortunately we were able to pivot quite quickly considering we had already started to explore digital options the past couple of years; for instance, digital exhibition catalogues and smart business matchmaking platforms which in fact have been critical aspects of MEDICAL FAIR ASIA in the last two iterations. Therefore for this edition, we were able to extend these digital capabilities to a fully online platform quite seamlessly, and overall the transition has been rather smooth.
InfoMed: What can exhibitors and visitors expect from a digital MEDICAL FAIR ASIA? How will exhibitors display their wares, and how will visitors be able to interact with the exhibitors?
Ringling: As it is a digital event this year, we have extended it from the usual three days to 10 days to allow for optimum engagement and connection opportunities for all participants. The MEDICAL FAIR ASIA online platform will consist of two central areas: the Exhibition Hall and Conference Hall, and will be powered by a robust business matching service and online meeting capabilities.
The Exhibition Hall offers visitors a user-friendly sourcing platform where 320 exhibitors from 35 countries can showcase a comprehensive range of about 3,000 medical and healthcare products, equipment and solutions; from pandemic management solutions, diagnostic equipment, and smart care sensors to robotic rehabilitative devices. Here is where visitors and exhibitors can e-meet and engage via video calls, audio, instant text and messaging options.
The knowledge-sharing part of the exhibition which has always been a signature component
of MEDICAL FAIR ASIA continues to be so for the online edition in the Conference Hall. This is where visitors can participate in a daily line-up of daily technical presentations and thought-leadership conferences by regional and international experts in their fields. We are excited to share that we are expecting top speakers such as leading virologist Professor Peter Piot, one of the discoverers of the Ebola virus, who has recently recovered from COVID-19, as well as award-winning cancer surgeon Professor Shafi Ahmed amongst many notable others. Conference delegates will be able to enjoy presentations and Q&A sessions with content made available on-demand for delegates based in different time zones.
InfoMed: With vaccines now on the horizon do you think the MICE industry will soon return to its pre-pandemic norm or do you think it will be difficult to tempt companies back to physical exhibitions?
Ringling: It will not be an automatic shift back to pre-COVID times, this ‘new normal’ we have all been referring to is here to stay for a while. But I think we will start to see some recovery as early as the second half of 2021 seeing that it will take time to roll out vaccines globally. It is likely that it will be 2022 before we can expect to see the MICE industry making a significant recovery and most likely 2023 before it approaches pre-pandemic levels, but I don’t doubt it will recover.
We have been receiving enquiries constantly about when our events will be back, indicating there is definitely an appetite among both exhibitors and visitors to return to ‘live’ physical events, so I don’t think it will be difficult to persuade businesses to return to exhibit.
Having said that, as we look ahead to 2021, we strongly believe and are optimistic that in-person interactions will remain powerful and unlikely to be replaced by virtual events in a dominant way. In fact, in many ways, this pandemic has also shown the value and power of human connection and importance of face-to-face interactions, and how all of us miss those magical interactions that make the world of exhibitions so unique.
The challenge for the industry moving forward is embracing the fact that hybrid events are here to stay and how to continue exploring ways to merge digital and ‘live’ elements, bridging the gap between technology and human touch for the exhibitions industry – transforming the MICE landscape, so events are becoming more dynamic and more accessible than ever before.
For further information on MEDICAL FAIR
ASIA 2020 Digital Edition, including free registration for visitors, log on to:
 “Winning hearts, minds in ASEAN”, The Straits Times, 25 August 2017