The longevity of trade shows: why personal interaction will always be at the core


The longevity of trade shows: why personal interaction will always be at the core

While the events industry – and the world – is continuously wowed by the latest technology, trade shows are all about networking. Josine Heijmans, Vice President – Construction at dmg events, explains why personal interaction remains a non-negotiable for doing business


No longer a sci-fi plotline but a tangible disruptive reality, the fourth industrial revolution is shaping the way we live and work. As advancements in artificial intelligence, robotics, virtual reality and the Internet of Things make the leap into practical everyday applications, in-person interaction is no longer a requisite in many industries.

In the world of construction, where a firm handshake and face-to-face discussion have historically been the way to get things done, industry-specific trade shows have always been a fundamental element in the business cycle.

The Big 5 is the largest and most influential building and construction show in the Middle East – and one of Dubai World Trade Centre’s longest-running industry showcases.

In its early days, the show didn’t have the numerous international country pavilions and tens of thousands of professional visitors from around the world that it welcomes today. Neither did its first editions offer the CPD-accredited workshops and conferences, nor host the impressive stand builds surrounded by state-of-the-art facilities that we’re used to nowadays.

Yet, it already had its most important feature, which continues to drive the show’s success today: the ability to connect industry professionals from around the globe in Dubai, enable them to meet face to face, exchange ideas and grow their business.

Focused interaction

With the advent of the digital era, access to information on industry trends, new products or projects is available at the click of the button, shunting phone calls and face-to-face meetings onto the sidelines.

The evolving needs of a diverse audience that is increasingly reliant on non-interpersonal interaction has meant that the entire events industry has had to adapt its approach to communications and event calendars to remain relevant and engaging.

It’s very important that trade show organisers add visitor and exhibitor value, and that they offer more than a standard trading platform where buyers and sellers meet.

At dmg events, we have worked hard to create trade show environments that go beyond the floor plan basics. Instead we are focused on the value-add, to drive positive industry face-to-face interaction through an evolving collection of complementary experiences.

This includes the introduction of great educational content and live product demonstrations. Summits, workshops and CPD talks are key features of many shows today, as audiences seek industry knowledge across a wealth of specialist areas.

At The Big 5, we introduced clearer specialist product sectorisation in 2016, so that visitors could better navigate the show and get to meet the people they need to meet more easily. This was a direct response to the needs of our audience.

From self-driving construction machinery and remote operation using 5G capability to 3D building information modelling (BIM) solutions, there’s no escaping the impact of digital evolution and I want to ensure that this is a hot topic at this year’s show. AI, 3D printing, robotics and other futuristic themes will headline discussions at The Big 5 Futuretech Construction Summit, which will look at the impact on the industry and digital asset management on November 27.

Next-gen communication

To balance digital transformation and conventional communication so that trade shows remain an effective and attractive platform for their respective audiences, the events industry is increasingly integrating various technological applications across messaging strategies.

How event organisers communicate with their key audiences has changed significantly. The industry has moved further into the digital arena, which allows us to more effectively reach out to our global audience and maintain a high level of engagement.

We know how busy people in the industry are and that taking time out of their workday comes with time constraints, so, at The Big 5, it was really important for us to ensure that, once here, stakeholders can get the most out of the show. We have visitors who pop in for the day and those who come for all four days, so a large proportion of the online technology we use is all about helping to plan your visit.

A diverse selection of digital tools and tech applications are essential elements in supporting effective face-to-face interaction during shows.

Cross border conversations

The longevity of The Big 5 as a must-attend event is due in large part to the emirate’s position as a leading global business hub. We are hosting this event in the city of Dubai, which is a sought-after location for startups and for companies looking to get a foothold into the wider Middle East & North Africa (MENA) region.

If you look at construction and civil infrastructure in particular, there are considerable opportunities in MENA with recent numbers from MEED citing US$2.4 trillion of planned and unawarded pipeline projects. So, The Big 5 is both a geographically relevant event and the place to meet and discuss opportunities.

You only have to look at the city’s annual events calendar to understand why face-to-face networking is still king. In 2018, Dubai World Trade Centre hosted 97 international events that collectively contributed US$3.6 billion to the local economy; that’s a clear endorsement of the value of trade shows today.

Periods of financial crisis are an area where I believe The Big 5 adds an extra layer of value. If we go back to 2008 and the global economic downturn, there was additional impetus to attend as the industry came together to address market challenges and discuss solutions with peers and thought leaders.

It’s also an essential conduit to expand your business network and meet new prospective partners. Plus, through our educational programme we present a lot of relevant case studies, which provide an invaluable learning opportunity, not just for the present but also for the future.

This year, in an effort to drive informed decision making, The Big 5 will present the “Voice of the Construction Industry”, the largest research of its kind ever produced. Based on the responses of nearly 6,000 industry stakeholders from 136 countries, it unveils current and upcoming trends, opportunities and challenges faced by construction players. The research also offers essential insights on which markets are most promising and why, and how industry professionals are preparing to harness business opportunities. The Voice of the Construction Industry Report will be unveiled on November 25 at The Big 5’s inaugural CEO Forum, an invite-only conference of 150 CEOs from the region’s leading construction firms aimed at discussing common challenges, trends and strategies to support the growth of the entire sector.

New voices

The Big 5 is also a vocal platform for entrepreneurship and diversity, and in 2018 we launched the Women in Construction Forum & Awards and Start-up City, two calendar events that are welcoming new faces and industry luminaries through the doors.

We are a strong advocate for workplace diversity and the Women in Construction Forum & Awards has been incredibly well received. For 2019, we’ve added additional networking elements around the theme and, as a hot topic, we believe that it is crucial that visitors and exhibitors have an opportunity to meet those women leaders who have already set the expectations for change.

Moreover, this year the event will also support the Women’s Empowerment Principles (WEPs), an initiative of the UN Women and the UN Global Compact, providing seven principles that organisations in all fields can commit to adopt in order to advocate gender balance in the workplace, community and marketplace.

Companies willing to come together and sign the WEPs can do so at the official Certificate Ceremony hosted by The Big 5’s Women in Construction Forum & Awards on November 27.

Similarly, when looking at Start-up City, we have disruptive technology showcases as well as a dedicated pitch competition and are building a lot of complementary face-to-face networking opportunities to engage potential investors as well as introduce all stakeholders to the entrepreneurs shaping the future of construction.

Naysayers may believe that machines and technology are heralding the death of face-to-face communication, but with 68,000 international visitors in 2018 and a 2019 event calendar centered around human interaction, The Big 5 is still clearly ticking all the right boxes just as it was four decades ago.


  • Event Management
  • Events
  • Dubai
  • DWTC