Mike Blackman #ISE20Years interview - part 7: The move to Barcelona

Mike Blackman #ISE20Years interview - part 7: The move to Barcelona
In 2018, it was announced that ISE would be moving to the Fira Barcelona. Mike Blackman, Managing Director of Integrated Systems Events, looks back at how the venue came to be chosen - and the reaction to the announcement.

ISE Barcelona press conference summer 2018When did you first think that ISE might outgrow the RAI, and what actions did the RAI take to try and mitigate that?

It’s funny, I remember in 2007 walking around the show with Hans Bakker, who was then CEO of the RAI. This was when we had just come back to Amsterdam, and I said to him, “Hans, one day we will be your biggest show.” And he laughed and said, “Everybody tells me that.”

I knew we would outgrow the RAI at some stage. What I never expected was that it would be so quick.

The RAI expanded. They built the Elicium to create more space, more meeting rooms. They added to Hall 5. They gave us the opportunity with the temporary structures that we put in place, which work well in the summer but are not ideal in the wintertime when ISE's running.

To be fair to them, they did as much as they could.

But Dave Labuskes [AVIXA CEO] said to me, “You can't build a church based on just Easter and Christmas. You have to look at the rest of the year and say, how do you manage your business?” And the RAI obviously have to look at the same thing. If they build, they can't have a facility that they're expanding just for us. They needed to find other customers who would take that as well.

We looked at other solutions to stay in Amsterdam. One was to put some of the show in other facilities around Amsterdam. There are other, smaller halls in the city, but then it detracts from having that one core venue where everything is in one place.

At the end of the day, we decided that all we were doing was postponing the problem. Because even if they built another hall, we could see with the trajectory of our growth and what our expectations were it would mean we would face the problem again in five years’ time.

So the decision was made then to say, “OK, let's find a facility that's bigger in a city which has enough accommodation and is also accessible.” It's very hard to beat Amsterdam in terms of accessibility. You've got an airport that has the most traffic in the whole of Europe, more than 200 destinations every day.

Again, we saw when coming to Barcelona that there are other big shows here that have a similar profile in terms of country profile of attendees that ISE has and they manage extremely well.

So what were some of the other venues that were looked at before Barcelona was chosen?

Well, first we did the desk research to look to see which venues were large enough.

The second phase was to ask, does the city have enough accommodation to satisfy our attendees, and the third one was, can we get people there and can they get around the city? So lots of factors and we really went quite granular. We came to a shortlist of several major cities across Europe, but many of them came off the list when we looked more closely into these three factors.

"Reaction from the city politicians, from the local and regional government, has been overwhelming... We've never had this anywhere else"

Whereas in Barcelona, they had everything to offer: a large enough venue that gave us potential to grow. The city that had enough accommodation. The flight accessibility was good.

But it also had this other part that some of the other cities didn't have, which is it has gastronomy and nightlife and everything else. It had that bit extra that a lot of the other cities didn't have that made it attractive for our attendees.

We did a survey of our exhibitors and our attendees before we announced we were moving. We wanted to get some anonymous information without telling them “ISE’s thinking of moving, where should we go?” So we asked exhibitors and attendees questions such as what are the most important factors for attending a show? What influences your attendance? They came back with answers like the cost of and availability of accommodation and flights. Nightlife. The facility.

Then after we’d got our shortlist of cities, we asked them, based on the questions which they had answered before, how would they rate the various cities? And the result was in all aspects except for one Barcelona rated in the middle or at the top. Never below the middle except for one question, and that was language. The only concern that many of the people had about Barcelona was the propensity for people to speak English. I think in the past it was an issue; say 20 years ago, I think you struggled there if you didn't speak Spanish. Nowadays, almost anywhere you interact as a tourist or as someone on business, you'll find English being spoken to a certain extent. So that was something where I think, after being here, most people would answer that question differently.

But it scored the highest when it came to the level of hospitality, entertainment and hotels. So this was a very strong verdict for Barcelona.

Since it was announced that ISE was moving to Barcelona, what has the reception been like from local government and other organisations?

So the move to Barcelona… When we announced it, the first thing that happened was we tried to keep it secret while we were still negotiating with the hotels, but the message leaked out.

And this buzzed all over Spain and all the newspapers and we had to run behind the announcement publicly.

The result was that Barcelona got very excited. The city that until now that only had one really big show in Mobile World Congress suddenly had something else coming in which could be an equivalent size. And this came at a time when the economy wasn't at the highest here. They just had the whole situation with the independence action which led to a lot of business moving to Madrid and elsewhere, and suddenly a big show moves in. That was great news for them.

The reaction from the city has been phenomenal. Reaction from the city politicians, from the local and regional government, has been overwhelming. They're all 100% behind us and immediately reached out to say, “What can we do to help?” We've never had this anywhere else. So in terms of greasing the rails for us, this has been very, very good in terms of what they're doing and now they're helping.

What we're seeing now is in the city itself, people are hearing about ISE and understanding a bit more about what we're about.

And you see even more excitement now coming as the city welcomes us and gets involved. We’ve seen other institutions, a lot of places where they're using AV, getting in touch and saying, “How can we get involved, how can we be part of this, how can we support you?” So again, a big welcome and something which is spreading out in the city.

Certainly in terms of content for the show, there’s ACCIO and the AV Cluster and organisations like that. You really sense that it's an important partnership that they want to contribute to.

Yes. And it's not only ACCIO, it's the City of Barcelona which has a big stand. ACCIO, which is the development arm of the regional government, takes a big stand, bringing start-ups, bringing new-to-market companies or scale-ups to have exposure as part of ISE and it's also helping us develop other areas within the show. I think you will see in the near future some really strong developments as a result of the local partnerships we'll make.


>> Part 8: ISE and the pandemic

View all News & Insights

Related News

ISE Partners

no content here, this panel is used only to display the main title

Media Partners