Is the event scheduled to start on September 11 instead of the 85th Thessaloniki International Fair (TIF), which has been canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic, going to be a taste of the future for the landmark annual event?
It is no secret that there have been mounting concerns in recent years about the future of TIF in the digital age, as people involved in the organization of the event and beyond see a need to redesign the trade fair and adapt it to modern times.
There’s nothing wrong with a good party every once in a while, and with its music concerts, side events and family-friendly entertainment options, TIF attracts tens if not hundreds of thousands of visitors to the northern port city from other parts of the country, the Balkans and elsewhere. It helps inject money into the city’s economy, brings customers to its cafés and tavernas and fills the cash tills of its shops, while Thessaloniki’s nightclubs could not wish for anything better.
TIF also generates plenty for the media to report on. Apart from the protest rallies that inevitably take place around the Helexpo center and often lead to clashes with riot police, the television networks also dedicate hours of airtime to the country’s political leaders who traditionally use the event to present their program for the year ahead. But at the end of the day, only a small number of the people attending TIF are there to visit the kiosks displaying the economic and technological achievements of its participants, and only a small number of those attendees can probably tell you what they got out of the experience after touring the trade fair.
Are these the characteristics of an international exposition seeking to make a name for itself on the global fair map in the 21st century? Does all the fanfare and local color make it attractive to Asian, European and American exhibitors and commercial visitors, who are hardly if at all interested in the social profile of an event that they are taking a research and business interest in?
The scourge of the coronavirus has taken a heavy toll on TIF, threatening it with complete cancellation, which would have been the only time since World War II in its 85-year history that it had not taken place. The management, however, reacted promptly by putting together an economic forum that will include the participation of the country’s political leaders. By doing so, it saved the event, even though many businesses in Thessaloniki are complaining that the fair should have taken place “as usual,” with the additional of health protocols.
At the end of the day, though, the issue is whether this year’s developments will help initiate a sincere discussion about the future of TIF. We shall see.