ISE MD Mike Blackman

Integrated Systems Europe is the world’s largest exhibition for AV and systems integration. It took place from February 11 – 14 at the RAI in Amsterdam.

Faced with the growing concerns around the Coronavirus and the parallel discussion and cancellation of the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, the team embarked on accelerated proactive communications as well as additional hygienic measures on site. Here, ISE MD Mike Blackman summarises how everything unfolded.

Before the start of the crisis we had almost 1,400 (258 from China) exhibitors on just under 54,000 net m2 of space sold.

Pre-reg was trending at around 15% over the previous year but as the crisis began to really hit the news with we saw the pre-reg slowing down.

On the 27th January as issues in China (Wuhan lockdown) started to really hit the news we started to contact Chinese exhibitors to ascertain which ones came from the region or had staff from that region. The biggest difficultly was that it was still Chinese New Year and contacting them was difficult.

By the beginning of the following week were able to contact many of our Chinese exhibitors and over the next days to establish if:

  1. They had been restricted from travelling due to travel bans
  2. Unable to travel due to flight cancellations
  3. If they had European Offices or distributors who might man their stands
  4. If they still intended to participate at ISE 2020.

For those restricted or unable to travel (with documented support) we offered to transfer their paid fees to ISE 2021 and also negotiated with the venue to cancel any service (electricity, rigging, furniture and other hire etc.) fees.

At this time we also started to get negative attention on social media, particularly from one industry individual.  It was causing uncertainty and nervousness not only amongst our exhibitors bot also attendees.

After assessing all of the available “Official” Information (Primarily WHO, ECDC, RIVM & GGZ) we formulated a clear statement on what was being recommended not only on travel recommendations but also what one could do to reduce the risk whilst still attending an exhibition.  We then communicated with all of our exhibitors to update them on the situation and the advice given. We also decided to update this advice on the  website daily whether there was anything new to report or not. In this way we could show that we have assessed up to date information.

Our biggest enemy then became the rumor mill on social media which created more  uncertainty about safety. First of all we had one or two cancellations from small companies. The announcement then became public that LG had cancelled World Mobile Congress. Social media and the press started speculate if ISE would be next and that others would also cancel ISE. We then initiated discussion with LG who let us know that they would cancel and would prepare an announcement shortly.

We received calls and emails from many key exhibitors asking if ISE would go ahead – to which our answer was a categoric yes unless we were instructed by the relevant authorities otherwise.

Move in had already started and there were many rumors not only about LG (who in fact had already started construction of their 900m2 booth) but other major industry names.

We updated our health and safety advice and procedures daily on our website as well as onsite but now also issued information in our newsletters to exhibitors and then extended that attendees by email.

We informed Exhibitors and potential attendees of:

  • WHO Hygiene recommendations
  • WHO advice on Travel
  • That based on these recommendations we would increase the Hygiene opportunities by installing additional Sanitisers around the RAI as well as distributing additional personal Hand Sanitisers Free of Charge to anyone at the show.

The rumors of cancellation of other brands then became bigger on social media so myself and my onsite staff started our own campaign documenting construction of many exhibitors and their crews onsite and posting these across all social media channels. Many more exhibitors then followed and started to do the same and as a result we were able to quell much of the rumor and disinformation.

Despite this we still had 50 Chinese companies who had to cancel due inability to travel and another 22 non-Chinese companies who cancelled by choice.

Then 2 days before opening and one day after we were then hit with the biggest storm (force 10) across Europe that forced a total shutdown of Schiphol (the 14th largest in the World and 3rd largest in Europe) Amsterdam’s Airport. It also forced shutdowns in all, surrounding countries including UK and Germany (ISE’s largest attendee regions are Benelux, UK & Germany) as well as train and road connections.

At close on Friday ISE’s attendance was a little more than 26% down on the previous year, the total number of individuals attending the show is 52,128. Despite this  exhibitors have recorded record business as well as huge satisfaction on their results of the show. ISE moves to Barcelona next year and rebooking (signed contracts) have been already confirmed already for 62,000net m2 from 85% of our exhibitors (time did not allow us to deal with all of them).