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Exclusive: Agile & responsive – the new normal for ISE in challenging times

Mike Blackman, managing director at Integrated Systems Events, answers our questions regarding ISE 2022’s Omicron-informed push-back to May 10-13

What were the main factors that informed your decision to postpone?
It’s been a challenging time for so many over the past two years, and we have been keen to satisfy the appetite within the industry to meet again face to face. The situation with regard to Covid infection rates and different countries’ travel restrictions has been fluid, particularly recently; and after speaking with our exhibitors, owners and stakeholders, we agreed the best course of action was to postpone the show edition for three months.

In today’s environment – now more than ever – we need to be agile and responsive. Shows like ISE are for doing business and meeting in person, but none are the same as they were before the pandemic. We must acknowledge the factors within our control, and we are doing our best for the industry, our customers, and their customers – these are some of the factors we reviewed when making the decision to postpone to 10-13 May 2022.

Was Omicron incidence growth in Spain the main reason? Or was it the low numbers of previous attendees confirming their attendance?
Of course, we have been monitoring the conditions in Spain, but we are also closely monitoring the situation across Europe and many other countries. Vaccination programmes are progressing, but countries are still experiencing challenging restrictions. These conditions are affecting us all, and whilst we all want to get back to business, there continues to be a wide range of restrictions and a reluctance to travel. We have been working hard to balance health and safety concerns with the need for commerce and in-person interaction. As I have said already, we had to balance many factors in reaching this decision together with our exhibitors, the associations and our stakeholders.

I think the industry appreciates how incredibly difficult a call this is to make, but the general consensus is that it’s the right decision. In hindsight, do you feel that the decision could have been made sooner given the ominous spread of Omicron throughout Europe in December?
As you have said, it was a difficult decision, and I think everyone appreciates that in today’s environment, we need to be agile and responsive. We made the decision together to postpone the show until spring (May 2022) and we believe it is the right choice to make.

How did you come to a decision on the best dates for the rearranged show? May sandwiches ISE between two major US trade shows in NAB (April) and of course InfoComm (June), so will potentially impact upon American attendance. The dates also clash with smaller regional shows such as PLASA Leeds, the Media Production Show, and London Digital Signage Week. Were other dates considered and were exhibitors consulted regarding these new dates?
To move a show the size of ISE is a challenging prospect and, in a venue as popular as the Fira de Barcelona, the options were very limited in a timescale that works for our industry. The window of available dates was extremely tight, the spring dates of 10-13 May provides time for our community to rebalance and for confidence in international travel and meetings to resume. We will be working closely with all our exhibitors and stakeholders to ensure a smooth transition to the new dates.

Obviously postponement is an inconvenience for everybody, what with flight/hotel cancellations etc. But the exhibitors suffer the most – especially those that had already started shipping and even building pre-Xmas. How did you approach this difficult decision with them all?
We have had significant feedback from our exhibitor community that this was the right decision to make. We are in the process of contacting all our customers to discuss their options and how we can help ensure that the transition to ISE 2022 in May and ISE 2023 in February is as smooth as possible. If they aren’t already doing so, I would urge all exhibitors to get in contact with their account manager to discuss the situation.

With – I understand – 95% of their payments non-refundable if they
were to pull out of the event, it’s unsurprising so few exhibitors pressed the cancel button even as Omicron started to spread across Europe. And this must hurt all the more for those that started shipping/building. Does ISE have any compensation packages in place for this eventuality?
We are working closely with all our exhibitors to minimise the impact of the postponement and ensure that their experience at ISE 2022 in May is the best possible.

What are the benefits for North American attendees to travel to Barcelona for ISE, when InfoComm in the US is coming up in June – especially in the light of the move to May? Have you budgeted for a reduction in American attendees as a result; or do you anticipate similar numbers to a February event, given that travel is likely to have opened up more by May?
I was speaking to Dave Labuskes earlier this week and yes, we do have a number of events in close proximity – ISE in May, InfoComm in June and Beijing InfoComm China in July. The intention for each show in this coming year is to galvanise and rejuvenate the AV community while always keeping the safety of those in attendance as a priority.

Three major markets and three major shows! We are excited about the ‘summer of AV’ – while we realise that there are some challenges for those who want to participate across the globe – we invite exhibitors to call us and let’s work together to make the most of this time.

Of course, Covid is changing everything around us every day, but the constants of in-person value, innovation and story-telling have remained. No matter where or when, these shows will act as a catalyst for market growth and serve as a hub for the AV profession.

How many attendees were registered for the February event, and what would be your forecast now that the show will be in what we hope will be a less restricted window in May?
Our exhibitors were reporting to us that their customer feedback also showed that attendance was greatly impacted by the continued impact of Omicron as well as travel concerns, and that there was a strong desire to attend lSE later in the year. But as I mentioned before, exhibitor support and bookings for the show remain extremely strong – and, whilst it is fair to say that typically attendees are registering for shows much later than in previous years, we very much hope that the new dates in May will allow more of us to get together, to do business and to celebrate our inspiring industry.

With the move to May, and the (hopefully) more realistic chances of being able to stage an in-person show, are you now forecasting to see an upswing in exhibitors committing to the show and will attendees be likely to see a bigger event than was slated for February?
We now have another two and a half months to add some more features to the show – we will be revealing details over the coming weeks – so I say, stay tuned, keep an eye on our website for updates, and of course, we will share news of this with you as soon as possible.

In addition, do you have any changes planned for the May event that weren’t part of the original February show?
We had a fabulous show floor, with six technology zones, set across five halls of the Gran Vía, and that remains. All seven of the ISE Conferences will also be taking place, we have a number of show floor networking lounges and of course the AV Experience Zone. There will also be some additional features, but as I am sure you will appreciate, we are working with our partners to confirm the details of the necessary rescheduling and I cannot wait to share the exciting stories with you over the coming weeks – watch this space!

There has been much discussion about how trade shows will evolve as a result of Covid, as they accelerate into hybrid in-person/remote access events. Could you share what ISE has in place for the 2022 show in terms of producing a valuable trade show experience for attendees however they wish to ‘attend’ ISE 2022?
ISE 2022 will offer a digital platform presenting many of the conferences, keynotes and up to date news. Although this will be comprehensive and also be augmented by many of our media partners, it of course cannot match the “in-person” experience of being in Barcelona.

This must have been an incredibly taxing period for everyone concerned with ISE 2022, and its organisation. How has this affected you personally?
This has been a difficult time, but we have an admirable community, a fabulous team and the support that has been provided has been a source of incredible strength and I’d like to thank each and every one for their efforts during this period.

And how accommodating have the local Barcelona authorities been in assisting/backing the decisions you’ve had to make?
Everyone involved in every aspect of this situation has been extremely supportive. The city of Barcelona, the regional support from Catalonia, the exemplary team at the Fira as well as many partners – their willingness to help and be flexible has been very much appreciated and we are hugely thankful. We cannot wait to celebrate with the entire community at the Fira in May.

Finally, what’s your message to attendees and exhibitors alike about the new May event, what they can look forward to, and of course why they should attend the leading AV and systems integration show on the planet?
Well, I would like to say that I’d like to thank the AV community for their unwavering support. The positivity and solidarity shown over the last couple of days is a brilliant reflection of our industry. I can’t wait to welcome everyone to ISE this May in sunny Barcelona.