Facing up to the inevitable

Jo Francis
Friday, December 18, 2020

Drupa may have dared to dream a 2021 show was feasible, but a rude awakening was inescapable.

Oh, how things could have turned out differently for Drupa.

Back in 2015 the show’s organisers Messe Düsseldorf announced plans to shift the show to a three-year rotation, rather than four.

At the time this change had the blessing of the Drupa committee. But at the last Drupa in 2016 major exhibitors pushed back on the plans and Drupa made a rapid u-turn, and returned the show to its four-year cycle.

Had things turned out differently, Drupa 2019 would have taken place last year well before the Covid-19 pandemic laid waste to the international expo calendar, and to Drupa’s plans for 2020.

The show was moved from June 2020 to the end of April 2021, and then shortened from eleven days to nine.

But it was all to no avail. As 2020 draws to a close, the pandemic is still raging across the globe. At the time of writing (11 December), the World Health Organization cites nearly 69 million confirmed cases worldwide, with a tragic tally of 1.57 million known deaths.

German chancellor Angela Merkel has just made an impassioned speech in the Bundestag parliament calling for much tougher restrictions around public life in Germany over the Christmas period. “Five hundred deaths a day is unacceptable,” she stated.

A few months ago it had appeared that Drupa could perhaps still run in some sort of diminished form, perhaps with ‘local’ exhibitors still able to get their kit there by road, and visitors able to drive or arrive by train.

The Messe proved it could run a big show under Covid-secure conditions when Caravan Salon took place in September. However, it was notable that this was mostly consumer attendees and the international trade buyers stayed away.

That’s understandable. A few simple phone calls to Printweek contacts reveal just how many hoops have to be jumped through for anyone embarking upon international corporate travel at the present time.

Of course, individuals and business owners can do as they please but the picture in the corporate world is very different. International business travel is, in many cases, completely verboten. If such travel is deemed to be absolutely mission critical for the business, the levels of approval required are extreme.

Magnify that across Drupa’s usual international exhibitor and visitor base and the fundamental problem couldn’t be clearer. Even if the show could go on, who would be able to get there?

An exodus of big name exhibitors over the course of this year, including largest single exhibitor HP – which has an entire ecosystem of other exhibitors who exhibit at shows because of its presence – was a pummelling of body blows that left Drupa 2021 on the ropes.

One didn’t need to be a stable genius to realise that it was quite simply an impossibility for Drupa to go ahead in 2021. It was just a matter of time before the Messe made an official announcement, and that came on 3 December when it announced that it was providing “planning certainty” by calling off all its events scheduled for early 2021 up to the end of April, including Interpack and Drupa.

Rather than attempt to run Drupa in 2022 the Messe has decided to skip an entire show cycle, meaning Drupa will not return until 2024 – but it will still be around as a virtual show.

“Our primary goal remains to support the industry,” says Sabine Geldermann, director of Drupa and Print Technologies at Messe Düsseldorf.

“To this end, we will be holding an interim event from 20 to 23 April, providing our exhibitors and visitors with an additional sales channel and allowing them to make reliable plans.”

The plan is for the new ‘Virtual.Drupa’ event to help maintain the Drupa momentum until the world has, hopefully, returned to some form of normality. The industry has been awash with virtual events of one kind or another this year for obvious reasons – and virtual events can undoubtedly be useful as well as being time- and cost-effective if done well.

However, it’s also become abundantly clear that nothing can match the energy, connections (both organised and happenchance) and special qualities of physical events.

As Print Research International director John Charnock told Printweek upon hearing of the show’s cancellation, the industry needs a “kapow” and that’s what Drupa delivers: a global stage where the world of print comes together.

As long as both visitors and exhibitors continue to see enough value in that, Drupa will be back to showcase our industry’s latest developments in 2024.

Feb 2015 Drupa announces it will switch from a four- to a three-year cycle
2016 Drupa takes place from 31 May–10 June. On 7 June Drupa announces that it has scrapped the three-year plan due to exhibitor pushback and the next show will be in 2020 instead, even though this causes a clash with Interpack
Jan 2020 Drupa is due to take place from 16-26 June
Mar 2020 Covid-19 outbreak classed as a pandemic. Messe Düsseldorf cancels all its
March expos
Mar 2020 Messe subsequently announces that Drupa and Interpack will be postponed until Q1 2021. Interpack 25 Feb–3 March, Drupa 20-30 April
May 2020 First big name cancellations: Xerox and Bobst pull out of Drupa 2021
July 2020 Heidelberg pulls out
July 2020 Drupa 2021 shortened to nine days
Sept 2020 HP, Drupa’s biggest exhibitor, pulls out
Oct 2020 Digital Drupa online platform launches
Dec 2020 Drupa 2021 is cancelled, show to return in 2024

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