The Sustainable area at Pitti Filati.

MILAN — According to the European Exhibition Alliance, Europe’s companies lost about 39 billion euros due to the cancellation or rescheduling of trade shows this spring.

Surely, Italy, whose economy is mainly based on the manufacturing of a range of products destined for global markets, is among the countries that has most severely seen the financial consequences of the coronavirus outbreak.

For this reason, ICE, the Italian Trade Agency, is rolling up its sleeves to support the relaunch of the country’s international business with a series of initiatives.

With 70 percent of total Italian orders directed to international countries finalized through fairs — a number offered by Pitti Immagine chief executive officer Raffaello Napoleone — the protection and implementation of the country’s trade show business is among ICE’s top priorities.

In light of this, ICE president Carlo Ferro said the Italian Trade Agency will give free access to national trade shows to a new digital platform, which will enable exhibitors and international clients to overcome the restrictions of the physical space to successfully operate and make business.

According to Ferro, the development of this platform has two main goals. “In the short term, it aims to support the trade-show business and the related manufacturing companies during the emergency, but at the same time, it’s part of a strategic vision where the different players can interact in a more virtual way,” he said. “I like to think about trade shows living 365 days a year,” Ferro added, referring to the fact that the digital platform can guarantee exchanges during the physical trade show, but also like a social network can help exhibitors and clients to stay in touch and “in the future will become a real marketplace.”

Instead of building the platform from scratch, ICE is taking inspiration from Pitti Immagine, which already operates a digital trade show business and which is developing its Pitti Connect platform. This is expected to be at the disposal of other trade shows beginning in June.

“I think that public institutions should always look at private companies when it comes to find concrete business solutions and in this case we are looking for something that already exists, that is highly scalable and easy to adapt for the different trade shows,” Ferro said. “We are evaluating several options, including Pitti Immagine’s platform, which users recognize for the high level of cyber-security, being able to strictly control the access to exhibitors’ products like a physical trade show.”

Through the Fiera Digitale company, which last year was integrated in the Pitti Immagine business, the Florence-based fair organizer started exploring the potentials of digitalization for trade shows and consequently nine years ago launched the online extension of the Pitti Uomo, Pitti Bimbo and Pitti Filati events. In addition, in 2016, Pitti Immagine also introduced “Ready to Order,” an app for exhibitors finalized at simplifying and digitalizing the collection of orders.

“ICE found with us an interesting opportunity to support the business of other trade show institutions,” said Napoleone, explaining that Pitti Connect will feature a series of functionalities, including tools to collect orders, chats to connect vendors and clients, as well as technologies to do livestreaming of booths and showcase products.

“I really hope that many trade shows will have the foresight to largely look at Pitti’s platform as a model,” said Ferro, showing to be fully aware that the digital transformation of the trade shows will be much easier for certain industries, including fashion and design, and will be much more complicated for others, such as beauty and food. “Even if in the long term I know that we will have the chance to digitally communicate tactile feels and olfactory sensations.”

Pitti Connect is expected to be active for the Pitti Filati trade show, which was originally scheduled for July and which, according to Napoleone, might take place at the end of August, a week before Pitti Uomo, slated Sept. 2 to 4.

“We are expecting an ‘extraordinary’ edition of Pitti Uomo in the sense that it will take place under non-ordinary circumstances,” said Napoleone, who expects fewer exhibitors, fewer visitors, “but, as always, highly interesting contents.” Even if some big names might skip the trade show’s rescheduled September edition — for example, Brunello Cucinelli already said his company won’t attend the event — “Pitti Uomo will continue to serve small and medium-sized companies, supporting the relaunch of their business in such a difficult moment. Deciding to not cancel but postpone to September our traditional June edition, we want to telegraph a strong message of support of the Italian fashion supply chain. It would have been much easier to just cancel the show, but we want to fully honor our mission.”

Another pillar of ICE’s support to Italian companies is the implementation of the online commerce. ICE has ongoing partnership agreements with six e-commerce platforms, including Yoox, Amazon and Alibaba’s T Mall, but Ferro said in the next 18 months, the Italian Trade Agency will invest 40 million euros to increase the number of partnerships for virtual window dedicated to the Made in Italy to 15, along with teaming up with 10 addition global e-tailers.

“We are also considering with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs the opportunity to develop a national portal to link the access to the Italian offering of local products, art and culture,” said Ferro.

Another key tool to relaunch the business of Italian companies on a global scale is communication and, according to Ferro, with the “Cure Italy” decree, released by Italy’s government in March, ICE will get financial resources to develop a campaign promoting the country’s image in the world.

In order to better support small and medium-sized companies in their internationalization process, ICE also created regional offices linking Italian entities with the trade agency’s 80 main offices in the world. In addition, beginning April 1, ICE is giving free assistance to the companies with less than 100 employees in the search of local distributors and partners in the international markets.

At the same time, ICE, which is organizing webinars offering solutions to face current emergencies, is investing 20 million euros to reimburse Italian companies the costs of cancelled trade shows abroad, while special offers will be dedicated to those brands which will attend international fairs promoted by ICE until the end of 2021.

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