Are Trade Shows Obsolete?

The entrance of the Milano Salone at Rho Fiera

How annoying is it to wait in a long line?

Don’t you mind waiting in line for restaurants for example? In Japan, you can see well-organized long lines of people waiting for something, which, I’ve learned, is one of the Japanese features attracting many people coming from overseas to Japan. Indeed, we, Japanese people have been strictly disciplined to stand in line tidy and orderly since we were kids, especially in school life. However, according to a survey by an advertising agency, though it was made more than 10 years ago, it was revealed that Japanese people are not relatively resistant to long waiting time in Asian countries, funnily enough.

A long queue of people waiting for the opening of a soba noodle restaurant

Money makes the world go round

I went to Milan two weeks ago for Milano Salone, the world’s biggest furniture trade show, and found in the main venue (Rho Fiera) there were many long lines of people in front of the popular booths, such as Molteni and Minotti. From my professional view point as a queue maker, their waiting lines were not bad. They were neat and tidy enough, but my concern is whether or not the visitors can endure the circumstances. This is not the first time for me to visit Milano Salone, and I don’t think there were so many long queues before the COVID. I overheard that was because many exhibitors now came to restrict the entry for loyal clients. This reminded me of Tokyo Disney Land (TDL), where the Fast Pass system (free of charge) was abolished and replaced to a paid system. Money makes the world go round even in the magical dreamland.

About 20 years ago, when I was still in my twenties and used to visit TDL often, I remember the ticket cost us only about 5,000 JPY (about 35 USD), but now it’s almost doubled (even though Japan had suffered from deflation for these 30 years). In the latest shareholder report, the management company of TDL has bragged the average spend per visitor exceeds 16,000 JPY, due to the expensive ticket, paid priority-boarding service, magical food and drink, etc. If you go with a family of four, you will have to spend a fortune only inside TDL, besides the expenses of transportation and accommodation. I don’t think ordinary families can afford it any more. TDL literally becomes a dreamland. I know no one can enjoy if it’s too crowded, but is it a right thing for Disney to exclude ordinary people like this?

What is the real value of physical trade shows?

On the other hand, Milano Salone is not a dreamland event but a trade show. It’s no problem at all for exhibitors to limit entry only to loyal clients. Do you agree? Although I may be biased (because I was made to line up there), I don’t think so. Milano Salone has always been a great success, but it’s exceptional among trade shows in the world. For example, most of the fashion shows and auto shows are steadily declining. That may be because of the decline of their own industries, but even the trade show of the up-and-coming online game industry faces an age of declining popularity. It’s still fresh in our memory that the E3 (Electronic Entertainment Expo) in the US came to end in 2023.

In such a situation where many other trade shows face difficulties, why are things going well with Milano Salone? I think one of the primal reasons must be the good environment in Milan in April. Comfortable weather, nice food, beautiful streetscapes, etc. Everything is there to entertain people. Indeed, it’s a trade show, and most people come there for business, but we’re not always serious and don’t focus only on our jobs. Entertainment is necessary even when we are at work. Even if Milano Salone dominates the furniture design industry at this moment, the organizers must remember that entertainment always underlies people’s choice and behavior, though this may be my whiny complaint about admission limits and long queues.

Speaking of entertainment, Asahikawa Design Week that is held here every June is great. Comfortable weather, delicious food and sake, and beautiful landscapes wait for you. It’s much smaller than Milano Salone in size, recognition, etc., but I’m sure it holds its own in entertainment.

Shungo Ijima

He is travelling around the world. His passion is to explain Japan to the world, from the unique viewpoint accumulated through his career: overseas posting, MBA holder, former official of the Ministry of Finance.