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Exclusive: Uniguest VP on how ISE did the “wrong thing” in 2021

James Keen is critical of ISE's decision to "force through" the 2021 event

If you visited either event, how was it overall for you – both in terms of it being worthwhile, and also in terms of the Covid safety measures? Would you attend a small regional event again in the future – either if it was forced by Covid or if ISE rolled them out as an add-on to the main annual show?

The show floor itself took no more than 10 minutes to cover, if I had travelled far then I would’ve been a bit disappointed; but to be honest, it is what I expected. I think smaller regional shows could work, but the pricing structure would need to be revisited and the timing is hugely influential to how useful they are. Beyond the show, there were a number of opportunities to catch up with old friends and colleagues and ‘find’ value in attendance; it was great to get out of the house. We all know that ISE is a massive networking show, but that is usually coupled up with a fantastic lead generative exhibition; so it is easily justifiable. I would be surprised if many of the exhibitors could justify an ROI on their spend.

What about the spread of exhibitors: Okay, given the circumstances?
It was difficult to say really as most exhibitors didn’t bring their ‘A-Game’, so it was hard to judge them and there wasn’t the usual sprinkling of eye-catching new tech to get you excited. Personally, I think a reduced cost to exhibit would’ve attracted a more exhibitors and created added value for the delegates.

What about ISE Digital? Have you checked it out, either post-physical shows or during the events? Was/is it useful, perhaps in terms of catching up with what you may have missed? Do you see this as an essential component of future ISE events? Are virtual events, in your opinion, here to stay following Covid?
I didn’t use it, and like most I am completely fed up with digital shows – they don’t hold delegates’ attention long enough and don’t generally lead to opportunities for manufacturers. Maybe there is a place for ISE Digital to run in the background, but I certainly wouldn’t put many eggs in that basket from a budgetary perspective.

Finally, it has been a very difficult time for everyone, not least ISE: horrible decisions to have to make. How do you think the organisation fared? Could they and should they have done things differently, and if so what?
It was the wrong thing to try to force through the show and then the regional show at this stage of the pandemic. Yes, we all want the events industry to survive and we all want shows to come back, but the timing of it was off and created a very difficult choice for exhibitors and delegates alike. Industry leadership requires making hard decisions for the greater good, and giving sponsors certainty; there was too much wait and see involved in the process. It also feels like the event was delivered for the good of the delegates and not of the exhibitors – forgetting who actually funds the show. We will still, as we have for many years, attend ISE 2022 and support the industry – but I think ISE could’ve done a little better this year to give its customers certainty and support.