In spite of the social and health restrictions, the economic impact was € 34.8 million
Bilbao Exhibition Centre closed a complicated 2020 having held 94 events with the participation of 340,458 visitors and a total site occupancy over the financial year of 195 days. The conjunction of three important factors enabled BEC to counter the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and register around one hundred events in spite of the social, health and mobility restrictions that characterised this financial year. The fact that the first two months were particularly active, the implementation of a strict health and safety protocol and the adaptation to new meeting models, with face-to-face and digital hybridisation, played a key role in the development of activity at the Basque venue.
More specifically, and by business line, 94 events were held in 2020, split between the categories of Fairs, holding 11 with the participation of 1,039 exhibitors; 74 Conventions and Events; and 9 shows at Bizkaia Arena. Furthermore, the economic impact figure stood at € 34.8 million, with tax revenue of € 4.3 million for the Basque Tax Office, and the creation of 730 jobs. The financial and social impact study is key to BEC’s commitment as a catalyst for business, civil and social growth in the region.
The year had kicked off well for BEC, which had recorded its best ever financial impact results in 2018 and closed 2019, the year of its15th anniversary, full of activity and figures showing a clear upward tendency. The expectations for 2020 were extremely high. The International Machine Tool Biennial Exhibition (BIEMH) scheduled for May with confirmed participation of practically 100% of the available floor space, and the hiring of part of the exhibition site’s facilities for a month and a half by the German heavy vehicles brand, MAN, in addition to other scheduled events, predicted a good year back in January.
However, the declaration of the pandemic and the subsequent state of health emergency declared on 14th March brought Bilbao Exhibition Centre’s upward trend to an abrupt halt and left the halls without the frenetic activity with which they had started the year.
JANUARY-MARCH: TWO AND A HALF MONTHS FULL OF ACTIVITY
Bilbao Exhibition Centre kicked off its schedule for 2020 holding the typical initial fairs in its agenda. The 55th edition of the Children’s Christmas Fun Park (PIN/UGP) filled Halls 3 and 5 with its commitment to fun for small children and six core values: sustainability, family, healthy life, solidarity, equality and cyber-citizenship, to which Basque was once more added as a transversal value.
A classic winter event is Tendencias Creativas, the Crafts Fair, that brought together almost 18,000 people with around one hundred exhibitors and more than 450 workshops and course at the end of January. Activity at the start of the year also included the Expocadena congress in February, an annual event for members of the Cadena 88 network of hardware stores and the suppliers of the Service Centre. At the beginning of March, Gustoko held its biennial meeting with traditional, local and sustainable production in an event that was attended by 12,000 people. Around this time, BEC also hosted other events, such as [email protected], Desembalaje and Chess&Gazte.
Bizkaia Arena had also planned an interesting programme for the year. Up until the declaration of the pandemic, it was able to host the EiTB Goazen party, attended by 2,000 people; the X-trial competition, with an audience of 5,000 and Algara Gauak, the Euskaltel monologues, which were seen by 20,000 people in three sessions.
However, the big event at the start of the year which generated great expectations for economic activity in 2020 was undeniably the arrival of MAN to the Biscayan exhibition centre. The German heavy vehicle company chose BEC to unveil its latest generation of trucks to the world and scheduled private visits for more than 6,000 guests from all corners of the planet until 25th March. The experience was a huge success for the German representatives and for Bilbao Exhibition Centre, as it provided an excellent boost to the exhibition site’s image and international prestige.
MARCH: LOCKDOWN AND CANCELLATION OF EVENTS
The confinement of the population for two months brought economic activity to a standstill, placing thousands of companies in a delicate situation as they saw their production forced to a halt and, consequently, their income.
Bilbao Exhibition Centre was no stranger to this situation, as the effects of COVID-19 led to the postponement and/or cancellation of 67 events scheduled for 2020, among other things. Undoubtedly, the most difficult decision was that affecting the International Machine Tool Biennial Exhibition (BIEMH). The BEC management, in constant communication with AFM and AIMHE, carried out a thorough analysis of the situation in order to address its commitment to clients. Following the application of flexibility criteria and adaptation to the needs of companies, as well as an initial postponement to November, finally the proper conditions to hold the event were not fulfilled so it was eventually postponed to 2022.
However, it was not the only fair to be cancelled. In a social and economic situation such as that of spring, it was not feasible to hold Expovacaciones, nor was it possible to go ahead with Japan Weekend, Retroclásica or FVO, to name just a few of the events that have been well-established in the BEC calendar for years.
Bizkaia Arena deserves a special mention, as the music industry is one of the worst affected by the pandemic. Due to this situation, most of the concerts scheduled were either postponed and/or cancelled, including those of Izal, Beret, Estopa and Dani Martín, who hope to perform for their fans in 2021. La Pegatina announced the cancellation sine die of its performance and the 2020 editions of the Basque Urban and Modern Dance Championship and Euskalgym were put off until 2021.
MAY: PIONEERS IN SAFETY FOR LARGE-SCALE EVENTS
The start of the so-called de-escalation came in May with a timid re-commencement of activity in industry, commerce and, of course, at exhibition, congress and event venues. The key word at that point was safety, so the preparation of a protocol with maximum health and hygiene guarantees was a priority for the return of activity to BEC.
In mid-June, HABE held its language profile exams at BEC, which involved more than 12,000 people from all over the Basque Country, in what was the first large-scale event held at an exhibition centre in Spain. To do so, it was necessary to draw up a strict safety plan, in which all aspects affecting the whole itinerary of participants were taken into account. The protocol focused on access control; monitoring of social distancing and people’s movements, with one way flow management; cleaning, sanitisation and environmental safety of facilities, as well as seamless communication and coordination with health authorities and services.
From then on, such measures were applied to each and every event held at BEC. Examples include the IVAP Basque language exams, the second call of HABE, the EBAU exams or the Municipal Police and Ertzaintza public sector exams, whereby these events involved a total of more than 12,000 people. The autumn edition of Desembalaje was also held and was particularly relevant as it was the first trade show with public in attendance. It reached full capacity at different times on the first day.
At Bizkaia Arena, the Zerupeko Gauak summer events in the BEC Tower Restaurant with a combination of gastronomy and live music can be highlighted, in an attempt to lend a hand to the sectors that have been hit the hardest, such as the hospitality and events industry, mainly featuring groups that are not so well known. The tribute-dinners to The Police, Joaquín Sabina and ABBA, among others, were limited to one hundred people, who highlighted safety as one of the most positive aspects of the evenings.
The protocol designed, which goes beyond the defined standards, followed the recommendations of AFE – Spanish Fairs Association and APCE – Spanish Association of Conference Centres, in coordination with UFI-The Global Association of the Exhibition Industry and EMECA-European Major Exhibition Centres Association.
Last December, in recognition of this work, Bilbao Exhibition Centre was awarded the “Safe Tourism Certified” seal by the Institute for Spanish Tourism Quality (ICTE), a distinction that certifies that the exhibition centre is a safe space.
NEW MEETING MODELS
Once activity resumed in May, the efforts of Bilbao Exhibition Centre focused on recovering its role as the intrinsic economic driving force in a sector, such as trade fairs and events, which generates business, promotes networking, fosters knowledge exchange and opens up opportunities. A huge effort was made to adapt to the circumstances, as it was necessary to start working in formats that had never been explored before. The arrival of streaming and the so-called hybrid events, which combine in-person and digital activity, opened up new and interesting channels of communication and meeting formats.
Along this line, BEC held its first hybrid event with speakers from such diverse corners of the world as the United States, Chile, Norway, Ireland or Canada, who participated in talks and round tables with other experts who were in the BEC Auditorium. This exceptional edition of Egurtek, International Forum on Architecture and Construction in Wood, was a huge success thanks to the high level of the talks. It also saw an increase in participation and its international nature as a result of these on-line connections to complement other formats.
With the same focus, BEC provided the necessary technical support for events held by the Basque Energy Cluster, Eroski or the trade union, LAB, as well as for a new edition of Fun&Serious Game Festival or the Bizkaia Orekan Sakonduz 2020.
In this section, Celebra!, the fair specialising in weddings and all types of celebrations, stands out, as its second edition has become a totally virtual event. The result is a themed, on-line guidance platform that will continue until next March.
All of this general activity at BEC in 2020 was reflected on its different social media channels – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and YouTube-, in which its 173,000 followers generated six million impressions.
2021: GRADUAL RECOVERY
The arrival of 2021 and the vaccination process that has commenced worldwide open up some interesting expectations that point towards the start of a gradual recovery, in which the pace will depend on the evolution of the social and health situation.
Resuming activity is a constant at Bilbao Exhibition Centre. It is currently working on a calendar that maintains all of the fairs and events scheduled for 2021, which will obviously be subject to health guidelines. For the time being, the forecasts point towards the ongoing presence of restrictive measures for trade shows held in the first half of the year, so digital events will prevail over face-to-face meetings. The traditional Tendencias Creativas, Expovacaciones, FVO, Desembalaje and Euskal Encounter, among others, are scheduled for these dates.
Bizkaia Arena is also working on its programme, with the aim of recovering activity in small formats as of spring and with the hope that tours of leading groups on the international music scene will gradually be resumed.
However, 2021 at the Bilbao Exhibition Centre will undoubtedly be marked by industrial meetings, with +Industry, Spain’s biggest advanced manufacturing platform, which simultaneously brings together seven industrial fairs in the same space: Industry Tools by Ferroforma, Subcontratación, Fitmaq, Addit3D, BeDigital, Pumps&Valves and Maintenance. This framework will also include the industrial employment fair, WORKINN.
In October, Bilbao Exhibition Centre will witness the birth of a new industrial event: Steel Tech. As a biennial event, it has come about as a result of the collaboration between BEC and Siderex, the Cluster Association of Steelworks, which aims to become the leading international meeting point in Southern Europe for the steel sector.
Finally, the third edition of World Maritime Week has been moved to October to bring the international maritime sector to BEC along with its traditional events: Sinaval (naval), Eurofishing (fisheries), FuturePort (ports), as well as the Oil&Gas Conference and the new Ocean Energy Conference.
CHALLENGES AND COMMITTMENTS
The digital transformation was one of the major commitments adopted by Bilbao Exhibition Centre and has taken on even greater significance over the past nine months, with the rapid adaptation to teleworking. It is true that work has been going on for a long time in relation to the digital transformation and the development of new tools to improve the experience of clients and visitors to the exhibition site. In this respect, BEC has not only updated its websites and brand apps but is also completing the migration to the latest version of its IT management systems and has begun an ambitious project for staff training and digitalisation, in addition to implementing major actions in terms of cybersecurity.
Another of its firm commitments is to support sustainability. Throughout 2021, work will continue to optimise environmentally friendly actions. The BEC Solar project forms part of this line, which will extend the installation of solar panels to increase the current power rating of 100 kW to 1MW. In this way, the energy generated will be used for self-consumption, which will represent 12% of BEC’s average consumption. Additionally, this year 18 car parking spaces will be adapted to charging points, which, added to the existing three points, will make a total of 21 charging points (7.4 kW) for electric vehicles.
As for involvement in society as an active solidarity organisation, in 2021, BEC will continue with campaigns such as One Point, One Gift, organised last Christmas, in which almost 300 presents were collected for children of vulnerable families who are helped by Red Cross Bizkaia. During the months of lockdown and in collaboration with the same charity, BEC was turned into a logistics centre for the distribution of food to people affected by COVID-19.
Furthermore, promotion of the Basque language has become a constant feature in all actions at Bilbao Exhibition Centre. Therefore, this year will follow in the footsteps of 2020, in which the active participation of staff in Euskararen Eguna (International Day of the Basque Language) was promoted with the participation of around fifty people. It was also Arigune (Basque-speaking space) for the first time ever during Euskaraldia (2-week period to promote the use of the Basque language).
In relation to services for the surrounding area, the works on the Be Up BEC gym will be completed in 2021, offering 5,000 square metres with weight rooms, courses and a swimming pool, among other facilities, on the north transept of the atrium. The Be Up sporting model is based on a family concept of sport, with specific proposals for all ages.