STA, 22 October 2021 - The Ljubljana Exhibition and Convention Centre is hosting its first fair after an interlude of a year and a half due to coronavirus. However, CEO Iztok Bricl says he does not expect business to get back to normal before the autumn next year.
The 51st iteration of the Nature-Health fair opened at Gospodarsko Razstavišče (GR) on Wednesday, the first such event after the 59th Home fair had to close a day early in March 2020 when the coronavirus epidemic was first declared.
"Nature-Health is our third largest fair. It's featuring 140 exhibitors and we've leased out over 2,500 square metres of exhibition space," Bricl has told the STA in an interview.
A bigger question is the turnout. "Realistically, I believe the visitor numbers will be halved. The recovered-vaccinated-tested rule being the condition to visit, we've organised free testing for the visitors," says Bricl.
November will see the 31st Ambient Ljubljana furniture fair with the construction fair Dom Plus, which make up the second largest fair at the Ljubljana fairgrounds. The largest one is Home, which is due back next March.
Lockdown measures have had a major impact on business. "We saw a decline of nearly 60% last year. We generated 2.6 million in revenue, which compares to roughly six million in the years before. We made half a million euro in loss in 2020."
The company had been doing very well in the years before Covid, in particularly after 2016. Half the revenue was generated by fairs and half by conventions and large events. Both divisions ground to a halt. The staff was thus cut back from 39 to below 30.
GR made use of state aid measures such as furlough and compensation for fixed costs, deferring the land contribution tax payment of EUR 180,000 a year by a year as well as delaying the payment of the corporate income tax.
"Gospodarsko Razstavišče survived that period by means of loans and the cash flow that had been generated before. State aid was not enough, it didn't offset even a third of the loss," says Bricl.
He does not think the government acted fast enough to provide loan guarantees or provided sufficient support for the events industry, which was hit the hardest. "Everything they gave, came late," he says, comparing measures to those in Austria, Germany and Italy.
"In Slovenia, the government was saving jobs, not companies. That's a major difference," says Bricl, who is also the head of the Chamber of Fairs and Meetings Industry.
Everyone in the industry is now waiting for the call for funds that is being promised by the Economy Ministry "so we can survive and get prepared for the coming years".
While noting the uncertainty surrounding the epidemic in view of the low vaccination rate in Slovenia, Bricl expects GR to get back to business as usual in the autumn of 2022 when he expects a major new problem to be finding the right staff.
This year the company has been holding mostly smaller events, seminars, meetings of up to 50 people. The CEO expects revenue to the tune of EUR 2 million with the loss likely at last year's level.
The pandemic has also put investments on hold. Plans for a new multi-purpose hall remain with the city council expected to endorse the relevant zoning plan in about a year.
Next year they plan to hold ten major international conventions, five of which have already been confirmed. Provided people can travel normally, they will also carry them out.