Can ISE keep growing in the face of change, asks Rob Lane?
As time’s relentless arrow moves further away from 2016 and its game-changing, ‘new normal’ events (the Brexit referendum, Trump) and surprise celebrity deaths (Davie Bowie and Alan Rickman, to name but two), the reassuring, annual arrival of Integrated Systems Europe went some way to resetting our collective realities. Business as usual indeed!
If ISE is a shining bastion of European integration, then it is also a successful advertisement for globalisation – both of which are potentially under threat from Trump’s protectionism talk and UK prime minister Theresa May’s pursuit of a ‘hard Brexit’. What will ISE look like at the end of Trump’s first (and hopefully last!) term of office, when Brexit and America First have had time to percolate? Will it be the hugely successful event we know it to be today (growing year on year), or will the pulling up of drawbridges and the rise of nationalism have done irreparable damage? Only time will tell.
For now, and all things remaining equal (which, unfortunately, they are not), ISE remains an unqualified success, both for European business and globally too. If ever an event was chosen to celebrate both the EU and global business as a whole, ISE would surely be on the shortlist of options.
Since the first, modest and mainly residential-facing ISE in 2004 (I was there; have rarely missed one since), the event has grown year-on-year and is, seemingly, unstoppable. Attendee numbers for the 14th event in 2017 hit 73,413, which represents an 11.7% increase on the 65,686 delegates from 2016. There were more exhibitors than 2016’s high-water mark, with two new halls and over 3,000sqm of exhibition space helping to push the number of stand holders to 1,192 from last year’s 1,103.
ISE is a truly European event, but it’s also a global one. Visitors to ISE 2017 heralded from 150 different countries. Last year the top three represented countries were the Netherlands, the UK and Germany – and I’d be surprised if detailed analysis of 2017’s figures turns out to be any different. It’ll be fascinating to see whether Brexit affects UK numbers in a few years’ time.
The US boasted a respectable 1,949 attendees in 2016 – just under 3% – and I’d anticipate that a similar number made the trip this year. Again, it remains to be seen if Trump’s inward-looking policies will dent numbers a few years down the line.
What is perhaps most remarkable about ISE, going a long way to explaining why it continues to grow year on year, is that – in 2016 at least – 39% of attendees were new to the event. This is, of course, a stat that is hugely popular with exhibitors and presents an ongoing problem for the organisers: how to continue to grow to accommodate these ‘virgin attendees’ and the additional exhibitors that are likely to be attracted by the burgeoning numbers.
The 2017 event filled 14 halls at the Rai, and ISE has announced that a 15th hall - presumably a temporary structure at the front of the exhibition centre, IBC-style – will be deployed at next year’s show to accommodate further exhibitor growth. Additional attendees are less of a problem – at least for the next few years – as the extra day (now four rather than three) has helped to spread the numbers. Presumably a five-day event would be the next logical step.
Whatever happens, we can only hope that any organisational challenges are good ones – how to make room for more attendees and exhibitors, rather than shrinkage as a result of changes to the so-called world order. One would probably have to be an eternal optimist to really believe this, but perhaps Trumpism and Brexit will have a positive effect on ISE, culminating in 2022’s event having to take place in two venues – with residential moving to a new Rai as commercial fills the whole of the existing exhibition centre. We can only hope so. For now at least, we can look forward with reasonable confidence to yet another barnstorming ISE in 2018.