“FESPA Middle East 2024 will be very much an international show”

PrintWeek MENA's exclusive interview with Neil Felton, FESPA CEO:

1. FESPA is all set to host the debut edition of the FESPA Middle East 2024. What are the highlights of the first edition of the show? How are the preparations going on?

Answer: Preparations are going very well. We have the team here in Dubai, but we also have the international team, who are helping. So we have got very much a whole team making sure we work this across many different countries around the world. So that is important. I think the highlight to me is the content, just like you as a magazine. You know you would be nothing without the editorial content; we see it the same way with exhibitions. So we have built a very strong content programme, which includes things like the Wrap Masters Competition. which has the World Cup effect in wrapping. That is coming to the Middle East for the first time. We have got things like the FESPA Leadership Exchange (FLEX), which is the leadership exchange programme. We have some amazing content from our leading regional distributors, but some strong international printers are also coming here to share their ideas in this FLEX programme. We have got Sustainability Spotlight. We know that the recent COP28, which was held in the same venue as ours, was very important. Obviously, we are building on that sustainability theme, and it's a very important part of what we do. Then, of course, we also have all global exhibitors coming here. So it's not just the distributors, we are bringing some of the global head offices straight here to the show as well. So there are so many things happening which we are pleased with, and finally, you can become a member of the Club FESPA and do all networking with some of the best printers in the world in one space called Club FESPA. The anticipation is huge. The content is strong. That is essential we spent a lot of money there, and we focus a lot of time on that because that is the heart of the show. We are flying in. We have nine board directors coming from nine separate countries from Mexico to Hungary, and they will all be coming. I have just been recently to Australia. We have some Australian printers coming all the way over from Australia, South Asia, North America, Nigeria, Ethiopia, GCC and from the local region. It will be very much an international show, and this is backed up by the exhibitors, not just local distributors, but also the international brands coming directly, which I think is the first for the region.

2. What are the key launches and special offers anticipated at the event?

Answer: I think that there will be a lot. I think it's nice that it's at the beginning of the year. So there are quite a few new products coming out. FESPA has always been a very strong place to launch new products. So, if you looked at the launch of the latest products in recent FESPA, you know that whole range of things. It has always been happening at FESPA. So we imagine the same thing will happen at the FESPA Middle East 2024.

3. What does digital transformation mean for the printing and packaging industries? How does FESPA Middle East 2024 focus on these post-pandemic digital trends in the industry?

Answer: It is really interesting. We talked about this at FLEX nine months ago. The three main topics people discussed were automation (AI), digital signage and personalisation. So those were three of the four trends that are coming up a lot. I think that what you are seeing in the market, not just here but around the world, is that people are moving from customisation to personalisation, which obviously lends itself well to digital technologies. So you are finding that people make a high-profit margin by personalising products. I think that is a massive change. I think AI is going to affect that quite considerably. I think the thing which is sexy from our perspective is that the fact is that people are seeing how print can transform a space and interior design is becoming much more beautiful and visible. I think you are going to see print come to the fore there. I have always thought that Dubai is one of the most beautiful environments you could ever do business and you will see more and more print coming into those amazing environments.  

4. What is the number of visitors expected for the event? How are they going to benefit from the show?

Answer: I think we are looking around about 4000 visitors. But remember, it is really important to talk about how you measure visitors because it's not just the number; it is the quality and the fact that they are unique visitors. So when we talk about visitors, the numbers do not include exhibitors. They do not include if you go out for a coffee and come back in for a coffee; you are one unique visitor. So, we have 4000 unique visitors, and we hope that we will have more visits because they will have to stay for more than one day. There is going to be so much to see and do. So we will have a high number of visits, but the unique visitors we expect to be around 4000.

5. Please share a brief profile of the exhibitors.

Answer: What we are looking at really is speciality print. But speciality printing will be anything with regard to wide format printing; it will also include screen and textile printing, graphics, interior design deck, or it will have wrapping, which is a very important part of the market as well. There'll be some signage, as in non-printed signage. So basically, the imaging world will be covering the sexy side of the imaging world, particularly wide format, but covering a whole different range of products. I think we're even going into some 3d printing with the likes of your marquee. So there's a whole range of places, things that we'll be looking at, but it's the speciality print in its widest form.

6. What makes FESPA Middle East unique from other shows for the printing and packaging industry in the Middle East and North Africa region?

Answer: Well, we're not for profit. So that's what makes us unique the fact is that what we want to do is we want to help the industry grow and realize its potential and look at all the opportunities which are available. So the money we make from the show, we will reinvest it back into the industry. We've already done it with Flex, where we actually had the 30 leading printers in the region come together with some of the top printers in Europe and exchange ideas. And that's not to make a profit, but to try and say, look, there are so many opportunities you should take advantage of. And fast his only aim is to build the demand for print and ensure industry growth that you know that print week does better, and that our suppliers do differ better and our printers, that's all we care about. So that's what makes us a little bit unique is that we only have one aim: to improve and help the industry get better and stronger.  


7. How does FESPA contribute to accelerating the industry's growth in the region?

Answer: The start was FLEX, but we can do many more things. The fact is, look, we are bringing the world grandmasters, so we're bringing the best printers and best wrappers in the world. Yeah, they are the world wrap champions. They have competed in six different five different continents. And they have gone to the World Cup of wrapping, which is the World Wrap Masters in Europe, and they have won, and we are bringing the two best wrappers in the world here. Now, if you think that they can show tips and tricks, we have also got the wrap academy as well, you know, they are gonna come and show these people in this market how you can build into this community, not just the cars, but wrapping into a deck or, I mean, I've seen people wrap, lighthouses, bridges, doors, we're going to bring all of that knowledge. So I think that's a unique thing that we will bring the best of the best to come here and say, This is what you can do. And that's unique. Nobody else has done that before.

8. What are the new growth areas for the printing and packaging industry in the digital age?

Answer: People are massively personalizing and transforming interior decorations on a long-term and short-term basis. So that's a really interesting area. I think textile is incredibly strong. Not just digital signage but textiles in a variety of ways. Whether in décor or clothing, people are looking at more bespoke products. In the digital age, digital technology lets us personalize and have more bespoke things. I think that's interesting. There are massive changes regarding how signage can be done, both digital and printed and how they work together well. You can have a digital screen, but if you have it surrounded by digital printing, that's a very powerful opportunity. I mean, the list is endless.

9. In your view, what are the current trends and growth opportunities for the printing and packaging industry in the Gulf region?

Answer: You have got a very advanced industry here. It hasn't been served as well as it could be. And that's what we're here to do to try and help identify what those opportunities are. But some of the things that you're doing are just incredible. So I think that the same trends that you're seeing in Europe and America, you've got slightly different things, which you've got to look at, but largely interior decor, you know, textile printing, both decor and clothing, we've got a whole range of things with regard to signage, which brand new signage opportunities, there's a whole range of things that we can do with regard to digital technology for rapping. The list is endless and pretty similar to what we have in Europe, which is happening here, with some slight changes. But that's why I think we need to bring the Europeans and this region together to identify the opportunities. Because I think this region could learn from Europe and America worldwide. And the world could learn from what's happening here. Because the environment you create here is beautiful, and the printed environment you create here is quite stunning.

10. We are keen to know about the industry trends to be highlighted at the inaugural edition of FESPA Middle East. Please explain.

Answer: We will highlight personalization. For example, textile printing has a range of different things you can do. Automation is also important because you can print very fast now with high quality, but you need to make sure you have the pre-press and the post-press ready to do. We need to improve the installation and ensure delivery and installation are there. So I think those are the sorts of things we will be dealing with, and there are many other opportunities as well.

At FESPA Middle East, the visitors will meet the global brands. The global brands will come directly for the first time in a long time for this region. The visitors will see all the newest products, they will be able to network with some of the best printers in the world from around the world. And they'll be educated in areas they hadn't thought of. And they'll discover new products which they haven't seen beforehand. So the people that come to this show are going to try to supercharge their business, and it's going to help them. We are a community-based organization. And any money we get from this industry will be reinvested back into this industry. So they need to realize it's their show, we're doing the show for them, and it's owned by them. And the more that we can do, the better we can do, the more we can reinvest in the industry, the more people buy machinery, substrates, inks, etc. So, it's a virtuous circle; we want the industry to adopt it as their show because it is, and we're not here to make a profit. We're here to make the industry grow. And together, as a community-based organization, I think that's what we'll do. We are not just any old organizer; we are owned by the industry; we are owned by a federation of associations focused on speciality print. So, you know, I don't have shares in the show. I only care about ensuring the industry grows and giving people the tools to grow. And that's different to any other show in this region, that we're all about investing in the industry for the industry by the industry.

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