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A showcase of the best

Bernard Walsh, head of DMG World Media, talks to about this year's Big 5.

INTERVIEWS, Business

Bernard Walsh, managing director, DMG World Media, talks to Christopher Sell about this year's Big 5.

The Big 5's attendance has been growing year on year; so will this year's show be the biggest yet?

No, simply because we have run out of space. Last year we used every single bit; it is a bit bigger as we have squeezed in a few metres but, in essence, we've maxed out. So we are anxiously waiting for the new exhibition centre to open in 2010 in Jebel Ali. The first phase of which will be double the size of the present complex. I have said that our target in that first year would be to fill the entire new exhibition centre, which means Big 5 would double in one year; which is quite ambitious. But we have long waiting lists now, not just companies, but countries. These are countries who want to come here and do business. And a trade show is a shop window for a region. It is often the first experience an overseas company has of this part of the world.

What does Big 5 offer the consumer?

It is like instant market research in a way. At the end of the five days, you will have a good idea whether there is a market for your product or not. And you will also have begun to determine how best to proceed.

We offer this marketplace for the world. There are certain shows that play an important part in whatever industry it serves: the Milan furniture show, for example. So I would hope that people in construction would come. They come to a show for all kinds of reasons such as to sell, to check out the competition, to catch up with acquaintances. And each year we get people from further afield; Iran, Egypt, and Lebanon, for example. The Big 5 performs an important role.

Do you have an idea how much money changed hands last year?

No. And I know some organisers bandy figures about, but I always take that with a pinch of salt. Particularly in this sector, people don't walk onto a stand with a chequebook and just make an order. They want to meet the architects, the developers, etc.

You have introduced a new section for PMV this year. What was the thinking behind this?

It has been obvious for some time that we weren't satisfying PMV at all. For this sort of event you needed lots of open-air space and that is not possible at the Trade Centre, so we reluctantly had to keep it on the back-burner.

The long-term plan was to use the new centre that would be part of the new airport, so there'd be plenty of open-air space there.

So we were always going to do it in 2010, but so many people were complaining - there have been quite a few companies desperate for a presence. In the meantime, we are launching PMV this year at the Airport Expo, which has outdoor space. It isn't an ideal solution as we would prefer it to be together but we have been pleasantly surprised.

Is this new section full?

No, but there is so much space at the Airport Expo. It is well over double what we thought it was going to be. The net m2 is 11,000, that is net, not gross. I am talking about purely what we sold. Given the average size of a new show in Dubai is 4,000m2, then that doesn't compare too badly. Clearly the need for it has been proven. And they are still selling, so it could end up closer to 12,000. Which may well be the biggest new event in Dubai.

Just how big is the Big 5?

That is 37,000m2, which is the maximum we could sell. The shows are running alongside at the same time. There will obviously be shuttle buses running between the sites. Some people will probably only go to the PMV but quite a lot will go to both. The plan is to join it all together and double the event.

Are there have any other sectors you are considering introducing?

Yes, there is. Big 5 Exterior. Because we have nowhere to put it, we are doing it alongside the hotel show, which takes place in June, and the FM show at the same time. It will be destined to join the fold eventually.

Does the infrastructure of Dubai play a part in your future planning?

It has been realised that the exhibition centre here is finding it increasingly difficult to satisfy demand from organisers like us. Coupled with the fact that the traffic generated by these shows makes parking a nightmare. It was realised that a site was needed that would solve the space and parking problems.

Last year there were complaints from exhibitors located in Zabeel Hall of being isolated. Has this been addressed?

They were right and I am pleased to tell you it has been solved. The problem was the Big 5 was the very first exhibition to use Zabeel Hall. Paint was still drying as the show opened. We learnt a lot and the exhibition centre learnt a lot. The visitors had no idea the hall existed. Since then, of course it has been used morning, noon and night and there is a huge car park opposite it. It wasn't just us - one or two shows after us had a few problems. But the matter has been addressed this year, shuttle buses will stop directly in front of the hall. I don't anticipate any more problems.

What do you expect to be the trends this year?

Its hard to say. We obviously know who is coming, but many companies don't potentially tell you until the show because they are launching something. So often we are not sure about the products until the day itself. But I'm sure it will contain more than enough to satisfy visitors.

Will building materials again be the most popular sector of the show?

Probably, it is hard to tell to be honest. Our job is to do the best we can to give visitors a broad overview of all the subjects that matter to those in the industry. One of our difficulties is that the Big 5 is primarily a lot of national pavilions. In other words, 35 or 36 government-supported exporters come to the Big 5 and they deem it important they present themselves as a country. While it is a great strength to have these governments' support, the downside is that, if you take Germany for example, which is the biggest country taking over the entire Zabeel Hall, there will be 300 German companies in there regardless of their product. So if a visitor came to specifically buy a pump, there isn't one place where you can see them all.

At the moment, as big as the Big 5 is, it is just about capable of handling it all. But we do understand when we go to Jebel Ali, which will be double the size, that we are going to have to think again.

Who is opening Big 5 this year?

We don't normally know until three days before. But I am proud to say that because the Big 5 continues to play such an important part in Dubai's demand for world-class events, we have always had support at the very highest level. It has always been Sheikh Mohammed or Sheikh Hamdan, so we are confident it will be a senior member of the royal family.

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