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Opinion: looking ahead to ISE 2021

The positives of the show’s move to Barcelona far outweigh the negatives, writes Juan José Vila of WORK Pro/Equipson

Back in April last year, I wrote a column for this fine magazine singing the praises of ISE, gently concluding with a look at some of the challenges that would have to be met by the show’s organisers over the next few years. Of these, the overcrowding of both the Amsterdam RAI site and the city’s available accommodation during the exhibition were my greatest concerns, and I pondered whether, despite Amsterdam’s convenient location and overall popularity among exhibitors, it might be time for the show to consider a relocation. Of course, we all know what came next. In early July, ISE’s organisers announced that they would be moving to Barcelona from 2021.

As I knew there would be, there are positives and negatives to this decision. Because Barcelona is at the south-western end of Europe, most ISE visitors from 2021 will have to come by air. To attendees from the Americas and Asia who have always had to fly anyway, this is not a concern, but the days of visitors from countries with strong AV markets like France, Germany, the Scandinavian and Benelux territories and the UK ‘nipping’ to ISE by car for a couple of days are surely over.

Relocation benefits
Speaking personally, however, it seems that every concern thrown up by the move to Barcelona is completely outweighed by the benefits of the relocation. As ISE’s organisers have pointed out to me, the number of visitors undertaking quick ‘one-night-only’ visits to the show by car has been in steep decline anyway since the exhibition became the largest AV trade event in the world. You can’t do the show justice in one or even two days any more, goes the argument… so you might as well fly in and stay for a few days. And although ISE will be less easy to reach from Northern Europe, it will become much more accessible to the 50 million-strong population of Spain, and AV companies in Southern France, Northern Italy and Portugal.

‘Barcelona spells the end for the overcrowding at ISE that has been such a problem over the past few years’

There are plenty more outright wins, too. The show’s new venue, Fira Barcelona, is big — well over four and a half times the size of the RAI in terms of bookable exhibition space — and already has an established track record of hosting successful large events such as the Mobile World Congress. The city itself also has way more (and way more varied) accommodation to offer than Amsterdam. So Barcelona spells the end for the overcrowding at ISE that has been such a problem over the past few years. Because demand for space at the show has been suppressed by the limitations of the current site, and there have been many companies unable to book space at the RAI, it seems reasonable to assume that ISE will grow considerably in size as soon as it moves to Barcelona. Although that raises the prospect of the duration of the show extending further in future, so that attendees will still have time to see everything, it has to be a net win that assures the future of the event. Trade fairs that expand massively year-on-year are never the ones to be cancelled.

City of contrasts
Last but not least, one of the biggest advantages of the new arrangement is surely Barcelona itself. Plenty of adjectives can be used to describe it, many of them apparently contradictory: it’s cosmopolitan and modern, but simultaneously classic and historic, romantic but still business-oriented. It’s a study in contrasts, characterised perhaps by the famous pairing of opera and rock that was Montserrat Caballé singing about the city with Freddie Mercury for the Olympic Games, itself a massive catalyst for transformation that helped to make Barcelona what it is today.

There’s so much to attract visitors, who are rarely disappointed — excellent food, weather, architecture, cultural opportunities and a truly diverse population — so while it’s the perfect place to do business, you’ll never be short of something to do after your work is concluded for the day. Given that there will often be 20 degrees of sunshine during the day even in February, you can eat in a bar by the city’s mediterranean beach if you want, and even if you finish late, this is a town where getting dinner at midnight is not a problem. If I had to sum up the change, I’d say that 2021 will be the first time I could seriously recommend packing sunglasses for a trip to ISE. And what’s not to like about that?