We’ve been doing a number of explorations in these past few months regarding the world of exhibitions. We’ve seen that in the field of corporate events, exhibitions represent the largest scale genre of production as measured by attendance and impact on local city infrastructures. We’ve seen that exhibitions of different industries sometimes take on unique formats, so much so that it might not even occur to those outside the industry that these events function as exhibitions.
From both the groundwork that we’ve laid by now, I think now is as good a time as ever to present an exploration on the preeminent brand in exhibitions in the world. As you might expect, this highest level exhibition brand also represent the peak of the potential for corporate event productions, and I would even go so far as to argue, for any event productions. It is to corporate events what the Olympic Games is to sporting events: a global production, produced by a century old international organization dedicated to managing the brand. Today, we explore The International Exhibitions.
Unlike The Olympic Games that have a defined cadence of being produced every four years, International Exhibitions have no set timelines for how often they come along. The most recent Expo was in Milan, the Expo 2015. The previous one was the Expo 2012 in Yeosu (Korea), and the one before that in Shanghai in 2010. These Expos are produced by an organization called The Bureau of International Expositions, an intergovernmental organization headquartered in Paris and made up of delegates from each of its 168 Member Countries. Since 1931, this Bureau has presided over the production of the Expos and the progression of the The International Exhibitions brand, much in the same function the IOC serves to The Olympics.
But the advent of International Exhibitions actually date back much further than the history of this managing Bureau. This genre of events takes its roots in the Industrial Revolution, when in 1851 the city of London produced an event called The Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations, considered to be the world’s first International Exhibition. Produced by the husband himself of Queen Victoria (would it have meant anything if I said Prince Albert?…), the idea was to create a platform where the world can come together to showcase the innovations of mankind and experience the cultural influences of industrialization. This event drew over 6 million visitors (which in 1851, was literally twice the population of the entire London) and exhibited the works and cultures of 28 countries from around the world presenting a total of 15,000 participating exhibitors.
Since the production company was The Monarchy after all, you can bet that no expense was spared for the staging. A specialized building called The Crystal Palace was erected just for hosting this exhibition. At the time, this building was the world’s first architectural endeavor to creating this type of structure we now know as “convention centers”. At 135 feet high with 800,000 square feet of prime exhibition space, this Crystal Palace building built in 1851 put even most of today’s convention centers to shame. As you might expect, the architect was knighted for his work.
Over the course of the next several decades, a couple dozen more Expos were hosted by world power cities like Paris, Vienna, Barcelona, and even Philadelphia in 1876, as the USA’s first production of a World Expo in celebration of our country’s 100th birthday. But alas, without a governing body, participants to these Expos began to recognize flaws in the productions. The themes of the Expos, the production standards, regulations for inclusion, using the name of an International Exhibition to attract attendees to an event that in reality is far too niche to qualify; all kinds of issues arose, but negligible actions were taken to rectify them, because in the scheme of the early 20th Century, the world had some bigger problems to deal with…
But after the First World War ended, governments got back to talking about using industry as a platform for fostering peace and cooperation, and in 1928, 31 countries signed on in agreement to form The International Convention. This predecessor to the Bureau of International Expositions began the refining process to the productions of the World Expos.
Today, hosting an International Exhibition is the only work in the events industry that rivals the grandeur and complexity of hosting an Olympic Game. China in this case serves as a convenient comparison, because in 2008 Beijing hosted the Summer Olympics and in 2010 Shanghai hosted the World Expo. For The Olympics, Beijing spent an estimated $44 billion USD on production costs, hosting about 3 million attendees. For The Expo, Shanghai spent an estimated $58 billion USD on production costs, hosting about 73 million attendees. Granted the logistics of these two types of event productions contrast in many ways, ultimately all event production of this caliber share more commonalities than you might expect.
The IOC gives a customary 7 year lead time to host cities of an Olympic Game, just as the BIE gives a customary 5 year lead time to host cities of a World Expo. Host city costs would almost always include infrastructural preparations — fixing airports, roads, public transportations systems — as well as hospitality developments, environmental improvements, and local marketing to the city’s residents. All this in addition to the building of specialized structures for supporting the event itself, whether sport stadiums or convention centers. Most importantly, for better or worse, to host a global mega event like either of these productions would usually leave long term economic impacts on the city for decades to come.
Just as with any industry, Events is a business comprised of brands and products, and certain brands and certain products are held in higher regard in the industry than others. In the field of Corporate Events and its subsequent niche of Exhibitions, the International Exhibition represents the pinnacle of our work. The impact these productions have on its host cities, and the influence they have on human society, make International Exhibitions as powerful and resonant a product as any in the world.
See you at the next exploration!