The Coronavirus pandemic has created a major challenge for Messe Frankfurt. Manufacturers, retailers and trade visitors see it as a positive sign that for the first time since the end of February important business platforms with strong communication capabilities, such as Nordstil (5 – 7 September 2020 in Hamburg), and trade fairs open to the general public, such as the Book Fair (14 – 18 October 2020 in Frankfurt), are now starting up again. These developments signal the return of vital personal interaction, as well as the opportunity to experience trends at first hand and discover new products. This is all the more relevant in view of the major international trade fairs that will be held in Frankfurt next spring, such as Christmasworld, Paperworld and Creativeworld (29/30 January – 2 February 2021) and Ambiente (19 – 23 February 2021). Hygiene and safety have top priority at the relaunch of these events, as the experts from Messe Frankfurt’s Operation & Security Center (OSC) make clear.
Frankurt and the world
Messe Frankfurt was not entirely unprepared when the new virus appeared in Germany, as Frank Richard, Head of the Messe Frankfurt Operation Security Center, explains: “Thanks to our trade fairs in China, we had very early knowledge of the situation in the cities and provinces that were affected there – and we reacted immediately. We ordered 15,000 mouth-nose coverings before stocks ran out. At Ambiente, we set up an additional 120 disinfectant dispensers in the halls. We now have such dispensers in use at over 500 positions.” The central control room of the Operation Security Centre is manned around the clock every day and can therefore respond immediately to any hazardous situation and initiate necessary measures. “Our Centre is responsible for the complete operational control of the exhibition grounds and emergency management, including security, safety and cooperation with the rescue services, police and fire service,” says Richard. Right from the beginning of the Corona pandemic, daily updated statistics have been incorporated into its actions and planning: “From our location here in Frankfurt, we are able very closely to observe COVID-19 case numbers throughout Germany and monitor developments.”
Fresh air and wide aisles
Over recent months, Messe Frankfurt has developed a comprehensive safety and hygiene concept in close cooperation with the City of Frankfurt Health Authority. Martin Forstner, Vice President Operations and part of the development team for the new concept, explains: “Our concept is based on the specifications of the German state of Hesse and covers the issues of hygiene, distancing and contact tracking. We have defined in great detail what measures need to be taken and what requirements need to be met by exhibitors and visitors in order to ensure the greatest possible safety for everyone. We have the ideal conditions here. Over the course of the past years, Messe Frankfurt has invested millions of euros in system engineering at the venue. This is of great benefit to us as we are now equipped with state-of-the-art ventilation systems, which are also an essential aspect when it comes to the official licensing of trade fairs. We are able to supply all exhibition halls with pure fresh air, i.e. outside air, which is renewed on a regular basis. Furthermore, there are now boulevard-like aisles between five and eight metres wide, which ensure compliance with distancing requirements. There will also be ‘communication zones’, which will make it possible to stand at or in front of a stand while keeping the necessary distance from other people. In short, everything will be much more airy than exhibitors and visitors have previously been used to.”
Arrival and admission
What effect has the new safety and hygiene concept had on the upcoming trade fairs? How is admission coordinated and what do participants have to do in advance? “Every participant who enters the exhibition grounds must have a mouth and nose protector with them – that is mandatory. Mouth and nose protection is essential in the entrance and exit areas, where queues can occur at peak times. Before entering the venue, each visitor must also fill out a self-declaration form, which enables us to exclude suspicious cases from the event or to take further measures if anything is unclear. In this declaration, the visitor must state, among other things, whether they have been in a Coronavirus risk country or area in the previous days or have recently had contact with anyone suffering from COVID-19. This self-declaration is also mandatory. The access controls for registered visitors are contactless. Medical care and specialist medical advice on the exhibition grounds have been ensured. All staff, including service and catering personnel, have been appropriately trained here in all relevant points,” says Frank Richard. Martin Forstner adds: “We know from previous pandemics in other countries, such as Canada, that the effort involved in temperature screening is disproportionate to the results obtained. The German Robert Koch Institute has recommended not to perform temperature measurements. Should this advice be withdrawn during the course of the Coronavirus pandemic, we will of course then carry out this measure. Admission is certainly a big challenge, because visitors and exhibitors arrive in batches by public transport. In order to significantly reduce the resulting density, we are currently building additional, alternative entrances. We have also rethought the issue of parking. We are expanding our parking facilities, for example at the Rebstock site, from where a shuttle bus will take participants to the exhibition grounds. We will significantly increase the frequency of buses by laying on more vehicles.”
Disinfectant dispensers at all stands
While Messe Frankfurt, as organiser and operator, is responsible for the implementation of and thorough compliance with the relevant safety and hygiene regulations on the exhibition grounds, at the stands themselves this responsibility rests with the exhibitors. “Stand operators are responsible for their employees and stand visitors. This is comparable to compliance with occupational health and safety legislation,” explains Heiko Strutz, Head of Technical Project Management. His responsibilities include hall set-up planning and stand construction permits. Exhibitors at the upcoming trade fairs will be informed about the extended safety and hygiene guidelines at an early stage, says Heiko Strutz: “In addition to the technical guidelines, everyone will also receive an information sheet from us. We are constantly updating this in accordance with current official regulations and medical recommendations. The sheet stipulates that stand construction concepts should be designed to be more spacious and that each stand should be equipped with clearly marked and controllable entrances and exits. Each stand must have a disinfectant dispenser clearly visible to visitors and staff. Exhibitors can either bring their own disinfectant dispenser or hire one from us.” Is touching of exhibits allowed? “We recommend exhibitors to clean and disinfect their exhibits more frequently,” Heiko Strutz explains.
Restaurants and catering
Good news! All restaurants, cafés and bistros on the exhibition grounds will be open as usual and offering a wide range of culinary delights while visitors and exhibitors take a short break from the action. The safety and hygiene regulations will be strictly observed and monitored at all locations. “Likewise, exhibitors can still offer their normal catering at their stands,” adds Martin Forster, but emphasises: “Unfortunately, those small exhibitor events that often take place at the stands after the fair closes are not permitted according to current COVID-19 guidelines.”
UV light – the way forward
To ensure that physical trade fairs do not become a virus hotspot in the coming years, Messe Frankfurt is working extremely hard on the efficient use of new technologies. Martin Forstner explains: “We have a scientific project in cooperation with the Aachen University of Applied Sciences and are investigating the importance of aerosols in connection with the spread of COVID-19. Here our aim is to combine the aspects of aerosols and effective methods in a system engineering environment.” This is probably only the beginning, because new patents and inventions are currently being tested worldwide – the Coronavirus pandemic has acted as an accelerator of this development. Surface coatings that continue to kill viruses for weeks are already in use in Germany at some ATMs and service counters and it will only be a matter of time before they are used at the Frankfurt exhibition grounds too.
Messe Frankfurt is well prepared and ready to resume its trade fair activities. Making contacts, discovering new products, exchanging ideas with other industry professionals, finding inspiration, talking about solutions, exploring trends – these things are indispensable for success in the retail sector. The trade fair is an event where all this is possible at a single venue.
Thank you for the interview!