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The return of the in-person cleaning expo

Rob den Hertog, former Director, Professional Cleaning and Hygiene, RAI Amsterdam

Never has a cleaning expo been more important, relevant and desired than it is now, in the middle of a pandemic that is being fought by hospitals as well as housekeeping. After almost two years of virtual and hybrid events, the prospect of an in-person expo finally seems plausible.

For over 25 years, Rob den Hertog, former Director, Professional Cleaning and Hygiene, RAI Amsterdam, helped organise and later oversaw the organisation of the global cleaning expo Interclean Amsterdam. As he hangs up his boots after a long and successful tenure, we asked him about the relevance of cleaning expos, how they have evolved and the choice between hybrid and in-person events.

In your experience of over 25 years, how have cleaning and hygiene expos evolved?

Exhibitions have always been a meeting place for a specific industry. Starting locally or regionally, most of them developed more internationally. Since its 2nd edition, Interclean has become more international, exhibitor- and visitor-wise.

The exhibitor profile has changed; we started with distributors and cleaning contractors, now we only have OEM manufacturers as exhibitors; distributors and cleaning contactors are the most important visitor group.

In the 90s, around four persons per company visited the show. These days, it’s around 1.6 on average. It was and is important to visit as a company, but with a more strict shopping list, you can reach the same goals with less people.

Since my watch started in 2004, the focus was always on showcasing innovations. Over the years, sustainability, digitalisation, robotics and battery-powered solutions became mainstream. We organised more seminars, workshops and demonstrations. And last but not least, we started to communicate digitally, making our reach much broader. When was the last time you received a printed invitation?

We also started segmenting the expo according to topic: Washroom, High Pressure and Steam, Management and Mobility Solutions, and our latest addition, Healthcare Cleaning. Visitors are able to find the subject of their choice and all related exhibitors, all in one place.

How do cleaning expos contribute to the growth of the cleaning and facility management industries?

Speaking to exhibitors, we learnt that such expos are important to support sales and relationship management goals. Our research department calculated that in 2008, the business impact of the expo held that year was €248 million. The number is based on what exhibitors and visitors stated in a survey.

However, after the 2008 crash, this statistic fell to €98 million for our 2010 show. Hence, expos are a sort of barometer of the industry. This confirms the commitment of many exhibitors. In most cases, meeting new customers will lead to substantial business.

You must have seen thousands of products being exhibited during your tenure. What changes do you foresee in buyers’ preferences post-Covid?

We saw many new products enter the show floor, and Covid accelerated the introduction of some of them. But my humble opinion is that all necessary products and methods were already there before Covid. But because of Covid, the general public and authorities suddenly realised that cleaning is very important, hand hygiene is a must and that the housekeeping personnel have an important role when they are properly trained. And last but not least, ventilation was placed on the map as an important subject.

I don’t see a lot of fundamentally new solutions entering the market. We see evolution, not revolution.

You have spearheaded a virtual expo during the pandemic. Is the future of expos hybrid?

Interclean managed to organise hybrid events in a very short time. But it also confirmed that the in-person event is superior to the online version. This is not only our experience but also stated by our visitors and virtual exhibitors. People like to meet the client or supplier in person before doing business, and look her/him in the eyes and start building a relationship.

In-person events are obviously more interactive, will be more inspiring because of unexpected meetings or discoveries, and offer a total experience. Drinking coffee at a booth, meeting old friends in the aisle…these cannot be replicated online.

I believe the hybrid model will stay for specific meetings. It can facilitate knowledge exchange when the subject is niche. When travelling long distances for just one meeting is too time-consuming or expensive, the hybrid model could be a solution.

What can an in-person expo offer to exhibitors and visitors that a virtual expo cannot?

Fun and serendipity are two of the most valuable aspects of an in-person trade show: the unexpected encounter that leads to new business relationships and the fun that you experience together that helps to strengthen the bond. This is something that cannot be achieved virtually.

The business impact of exhibitions is immense. Exhibitions are also great vehicles to bring out new products but also to meet new potential clients. 40% of the visitors in Amsterdam are there for the first time. Around 25% of the exhibitors are new every two years.

So when you want to stay on top of your industry and trade, a Cleaning Expo is the place to go!

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