Keen to Connect

Photos: QBM

Quartz Business Media, organizer of the renowned World Tobacco exhibitions, prepares to satisfy the pent-up demand for in-person trade events in 2021.

TR Staff Report

Since its first tobacco event in 1973, Quartz Business Media (QBM) has organized industry exhibitions and conferences in Munich, Jakarta, Bali, Macau, Kunming, Hong Kong, Prague, Moscow, Vienna, Amsterdam, Geneva, Nice and The Hague, among other top locations. Today, the company is best known for its popular WT Middle East, WT Europe and WT Asia events held in the tobacco-friendly cities of Dubai, Sofia and Surabaya.

Always evolving with industry developments and consumer preferences, QBM now also offers events for the shisha and vapor segments—World Shisha and the World Vape Show, both in Dubai. And in 2020, it added the legendary TABEXPO international trade fair to its portfolio, making QBM the truly undisputed leader in industry events.

Unfortunately, 2020 was also the year that Covid-19 paralyzed the world economy. A pandemic, of course, is hardly an ideal backdrop for big gatherings with handshakes, product samplings and lively after-hours socializing. Also considering the practical hurdles erected by lockdowns and travel restrictions, QBM decided to postpone all its 2020 tobacco events to 2021 and 2022.

While vaccination programs will continue to make headway in 2021, QBM isn’t taking any chances. To protect visitors and exhibitors from infection, it has established the “Quartz Secure Standards”—a rigorous set of guidelines that includes temperature checks, frequent cleaning and mandatory facemasks along with track-and-trace systems and medical support at its venues.*

Using modern communication tools to ensure an appropriate social distance, Tobacco Reporter spoke with QBM International Sales Director Colin Case about QBM’s rich history, its plans for the newly added events and what the industry can expect as the pandemic recedes.

While communication technology has come a long way, it is still no substitute for the in-person gathering.

Tobacco Reporter: QBM may be the leading tobacco events organizer, but it’s not the only one. What sets your company apart from the competition?

Case: QBM prides itself on really understanding each distinct community it serves—and listening. The business has a great team [that] knows their industries intimately and cares deeply about those industries. QBM doesn’t facilitate exhibitions for an industry; our events are drivers of the industries they serve.

Since the first tobacco event in 1973, the team behind QBM and WT has largely remained in place and has worked to help support the tobacco industry through the many twists and turns it has faced. The business is very proud of its accolade as the longest exhibition organizer in the tobacco industry, and as our portfolio of products grows, we look forward to adapting and innovating alongside the industry we serve. 

What are the characteristics of a successful exhibition?

Case: Happy exhibitors and happy visitors. The focus must always be on the quality of attendee rather than just the volume.

What has been the most successful tobacco event you have organized to date? What made it so successful?

Case: WT Dubai 2019 was a great success. After implementing a new marketing campaign, the event was able to reach more of the industry across the world. With visitors from 90 different countries, it was a truly global event, and we look forward to surpassing this in 2021 at WT Dubai.

What are the pitfalls in organizing an exhibition? How do you avoid such pitfalls?

Case: One of the key decisions for an exhibition organizer is to ensure that their partner companies, such as freight forwarders and stand builders, have the depth of experience and company reach to ensure that pitfalls are avoided. This is particularly important in our industry as clearing tobacco products through customs can be challenging and requires skill and personal contacts.

Selecting the proper time and location are crucial, especially for a business as international as tobacco. What must be considered when selecting a date and a host city?

Case: The locations that are now associated with World Tobacco, although now well established, were carefully considered at the time to ensure that the host governments were not hostile to the tobacco industry and that the local market had a sufficiently broad tobacco industry to attract good quality visitors. Our current city locations of Dubai, Surabaya and Sofia remain popular and productive venues, and so for the foreseeable future, we will continue with our program.

Please comment on your decision to add TABEXPO to your portfolio. What made it a suitable addition? What changes will you make to the TABEXPO formula in terms of setup and frequency?

Case: A fantastic addition to the World Tobacco portfolio, by having TABEXPO as part of our family of shows, it allows us to have more global visibility and helps to knit the global tobacco industry together. To be hosted in London in December 2021, TABEXPO gives the QBM tobacco portfolio a foothold in Western and Eastern Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

How has the rise in anti-tobacco sentiment affected the business of tobacco exhibitions? For example, has it become more difficult to secure suitable locations and are you encountering restrictions on what products may be displayed? How do you deal with the potential for anti-tobacco protests?

Case: The welfare and safety of our exhibitors and visitors is paramount. All events follow similar event planning protocols, which think about the social macro-environment where each event is held.  Thankfully, over the 40 years of running tobacco events, we have experienced little protest and will work hard to ensure that continues.


How has the rise of vaping changed tobacco exhibitions?

Case: Vape is an exciting and fast-growing industry. Alongside our World Tobacco portfolio, we also organize World Vape Show London and World Vape Dubai. By having a foothold in both industries, the teams are better placed to understand each industry, plan appropriately and deliver distinct and unique events, which will benefit both communities.

Please comment on the impact of Covid-19 on your business.

Case: Like all businesses, no matter what industry, we have been massively impacted by the ongoing situation. [While] we have been unable to host live events, feedback from the market has been overwhelming in their desire to meet again face-to-face when possible. With the global rollout of the vaccines underway, we remain optimistic that we can start hosting events for the tobacco community again in 2021.

How has the tobacco industry responded to the postponements? Did most 2020 exhibitors sign up for 2021 and 2022 or did you lose exhibitors permanently?

Case: The industry has been thankfully very supportive and understanding. We are very fortunate that our events are valued by the industry, and with that, the vast majority is committed to exhibiting with us.

Have you held any virtual events in lieu of physical gatherings? What lessons did you draw from those experiences?

Case: As a business, we have hosted over 40 different virtual event propositions since last March. [While] a great medium, virtual events are temporary fixes and not long-term solutions to the process of doing meaningful business. The tobacco industry has been clear: They prefer to meet physically and enjoy each other’s company. No amount of technology can replace that. 

What measures do you have in place at your upcoming events to prevent coronavirus infections?

Case: We have developed a dedicated Covid-safe exhibition program for all QBM events. All of our venues have also introduced their own Covid protocols.

Do you expect demand for in-person events to be larger or smaller after the pandemic recedes? Why?

Case: As said before, people buy people. People crave interaction. Technology can help facilitate that to a limited degree but can never replace it.

Do you anticipate the pandemic to have lasting effects on the way in which events are conducted? In what way? 

Case: Not necessarily. I think hygiene and safety measures will become more prevalent at all shows worldwide, but we also believe that the exhibition business, not just for tobacco, has a strong future as people will still need to meet customers and potential customers face-to-face.

WT Events

World Vape Show
Dubai, Sept. 19–21, 2021

WT Middle East
Dubai, Oct 26–27, 2021

London, Dec. 9–10, 2021

World Shisha Dubai
Dubai Festival City, Dec. 9–10,  2021

WT Asia
Surabaya, Jan. 26–27, 2022

WT Europe
Sofia, May 18–19, 2022