Saif Mohamed Al Midfa; Chief Executive Officer, Expo Centre Sharjah

Similar to other WTCs, Expo Centre Sharjah (WTC Sharjah) has faced challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic to make the decision to postpone, cancel, or move its in-person exhibitions to a digital environment. Considering parameters, we took varying approaches to four events so far this year.

First, we take the case of our 5th Al Dhaid Dates Festival. The United Arab Emirates is one of the largest producers of dates around the world, and this delectable, prized fruit has sustained generations of people, becoming an integral part of our country’s culture, heritage, and identity. Expo Centre Sharjah usually holds the event during the month of July, but with the lockdown yet to loosen, a virtual fair would seem to be the only solution.

However, we are choosing to go ahead with the fair as scheduled, taking extreme safety precautions — conducting thermal screening on exhibitors and visitors, staggering entry, enforcing social distancing, incorporating sanitization facilities, and providing face masks, etc. We have made this decision as the sense of touch, smell, and taste, in addition to face-to-face interaction with the exhibiting farmers, play vital roles in the experience, and cannot be replicated in a virtual environment. For events such as this that need to be held in-person, the exhibitions industry is adapting with lessons learned from the pandemic. Currently, a global framework created by UFI, the Global Association of the Exhibition Industry, is available with guidelines for the safe and controlled re-openings of exhibitions.

In contrast, we decided to postpone the biannual Watch & Jewelry Middle East Show from March to September, and chose to cancel the Ramadan Nights event, which was scheduled for May. Lastly, we are in advanced stages of planning to move our International Education Show to a virtual platform and conduct digital showcases, which will be held in October.

Separately, Expo Centre Sharjah has played an active role in sending a virtual message of assurance to investors and the business community through a social media campaign called #We'llGetThroughThis (for more information, click here). Along with the Financial, Economic and Industrial Affairs Committee of the Sharjah Consultative Council, we are spreading awareness about the government's economic stimulus package.

While the pandemic has shut down industries around the world, Expo Centre Sharjah is working with all stakeholders to navigate the new normal. We have discovered that through today’s technology, we can conduct meetings and webinars from our living rooms via Microsoft Teams (TM), and develop new exhibition concepts to create something even better. Starting with the International Education Show, virtual shows as well as other digital and social media-based programming will be part of our tools moving forward post-pandemic.

Photo caption: The 16th International Education Show was held January 22-24, 2020 at the exhibition halls at Expo Centre Sharjah, the United Arab Emirates. The next iteration will be held virtually in October.

Photo credit: Expo Centre Sharjah