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Exclusive: Why Barcelona is the perfect fit for ISE

Juan José Vila Ridaura, COO/CMO at Equipson on a great Barcelona debut for ISE

In 2019, I wrote an article entitled “Hola Barcelona!” about ISE’s decision to move its show from Amsterdam to Barcelona. This article described the pros and cons of the decision, but like everybody else, I did not anticipate that a pandemic was coming to stop the world for more than two years. 

ISE 2020 was the last show in Amsterdam, and many of us had great expectations for the next show, which was to be the first in Barcelona. But in March 2020 the world went into lockdown. 2020 and 2021 have been extremely difficult years overall for everything related to Live Events, and trade shows are one of those. ISE 2021 did take place, but it was a small event with just a few companies participating, and with the aim of demonstrating to the world that a Live event could be held safely during a pandemic. But, of course, it was not the show everybody expected – ISE’s true Barcelona debut would have to wait.

Then in 2022 we had to deal with a new Covid variant – Omicron – and at that point the ISE team took the decision to push the show back from February to May. This raised a lot of doubts about the future, but even though there were some voices that were unhappy with the decision to postpone, most of the companies and attendants thought it was the right course of action and prepared for the new date in May.

Most of the exhibitors (myself included) decided to participate in the May ISE show and to do so with the same amount of economic effort that we would have put in prior to the pandemic. However, during the build-up I spoke to other exhibitors and we all had a sense of uncertainty about the attendance levels. Of course, the cancel of restrictions to wear masks brought more hope about the attendance. Social networks like Twitter and Linkedin highlighted that the pre-show ambient was “in crescendo” as the show date approached, and looking at the prices of hotels in the last 10 days I began to suspect that something great was going to happen. Last minute hotel prices for a show as big as ISE or InfoComm can give you a clue as to how big the crowd will be, and finally the weather also played a part. I am sure that the great weather we usually have in Spain at this time of year changed the minds of some people who were after sunshine – and Barcelona as a destination also played a part and provided an additional incentive for those who made a last minute decision to attend. I know some people who certainly fell into that camp. One interesting idea I’ve heard discussed is what would happen if InfoComm and ISE exchanged their dates so that we had more pleasant weather at both shows. It’s a fascinating  idea but I’m not sure how it will affect the business. 

When the show opened, I already had great expectations because of the clues described above, and those expectations were surpassed by the reality. If you were there, you already know that we had over 40,000 visitors and one of the best ISE shows ever. This wasn’t just about the number – if you compare them to previous ISE´s where we had 80-80,000 visitors, then the 2022 numbers look much less. But the mood we all experienced – visitors and exhibitors alike – was totally different to any other ISE or even any other show I’ve ever been to. We saw excitement, happiness to meet again and many other emotions that were by far more important that just business. But from a distance, and especially when you consider all the problems the world is facing with the supply of raw materials, electronic semiconductors, inflation etc, I do wonder if we were living in a cloud, or just enjoying the moment? 

This article is meant to highlight how ISE fits Barcelona, and after the first experience of a show in this city – and the results – I think most of the topics I covered in my original 2019 article are totally valid today, even after the pandemic.

Those who stayed in hotels further from the convention centRE will have experienced how easy it is to move around in Barcelona, especially as the underground metro was free for anyone with a show ticket. ISE needs to make more noise about that next year because some people were not aware of this benefit. Taxis were a bit of problem, but ISE organisers are aware of this and will be working on a solution for the next show. Some attendees suggested having hotel shuttles instead of undergRound free tickets. 

To make a comparison between the weather in Amsterdam and Barcelona is not fair, especially as this show took place in May. But what weather we had! Long days with the clocks already on summer time meant we had daylight until half past nine, and this gave everyone a chance to enjoy Barcelona even after the show ended. Also, the restaurants on offer are not comparable to Amsterdam, not only because of the food but also because you didn’t need a reservation to find places to eat. Remember Spain has cities that are world champions in terms of bars per square meters. And what’s more, because it was May and Barcelona has a long beach, people were enjoying after work socialising and drinking on the beach, just as I predicted they would in 2019. Pictures showing this are all over social media.

The exhibition venue (Fira) proved to be quite good due to its size and simplicity of layout. You can walk along the elevated corridor quite fast, from beginning to end, and this is a huge improvement compared to the RAI. There are still some improvements to be made in terms of the pricing of services for exhibitors, and also the organisers need to offer more guidance to those who are not familiar with the Barcelona Convention Centre. Some people didn’t realise FIRA Barcelona has two main areas – one at Gran via  where ISE was taking place and one at Plaza de España – so they were booking hotels near the Plaza de España and got a surprise when they saw that the show was taking place elsewhere. 

And finally leT’s talk about hotels: Spain, in general, is well known for the quality of its hotels. Even a 3-star room in Spain can be much better than a 5-star in other places in the world. This makes a difference and is because Spain is one of the top three world tourist destinations. Barcelona hotel infrastructure is very diverse so we have good quality rooms and many different offerings, but unfortunately the prices of the hotels was not much different to the price we used to pay in Amsterdam.

To sum up, after the first experience of a Barcelona show and after talking with exhibitors and attendees, I am convinced that the move was a great decision. There is still space to grow so the show could be much bigger in 2023  (during the rebooking process, bookings of booths in 2023 has already surpassed bookings for 2022). Life after the show is definitely more enjoyable and people can sleep in bigger and better rooms. I am now waiting to see how an ISE show in February compares to this one in May, but even in February it is entirely possible to have sun shine and temperatures of 20 degrees in Barcelona, so I will be putting my sunglasses in my hand luggage for ISE 2023 and looking forward to see all of you there.