4 MILLION PEOPLE A YEAR

Spain 2019 | TOURISM | VIP INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Eduardo López-Puertas Bitaubé, General Manager of IFEMA, on changes in the MICE sector over recent decades, Madrid's unique touristic offering, and plans for 2020.

Can you give us an overview of IFEMA?

IFEMA started 40 years ago in 1979. Before then, only Barcelona, Bilbao, Zaragoza, and Valencia could organize events such as exhibitions. That law was abolished when democracy came to Spain in 1978. At the time, there was a strong interest from the Chamber of Commerce in Madrid to build an events space. The following year, we held our first exhibition in an old building. Today, IFEMA is the undisputed leader in its sector. Indeed, 52% of the international exhibitions in Spain are held here. Strategically, these international events are important. At the moment, we are working on growth, but have not yet begun our expansion plans. In 2018, we did 117 fairs and over 700 events. We have a wide variety of events happening at IFEMA. We are organizers of some of the biggest professional fairs in Europe, like Fitur, in tourism, or Fruit Attraction, in the fruit and vegetable industry. We also organized other public events, such as musicals and popular culture exhibitions. We want to widen our portfolio, so we are working on sporting events like Madrid Horse Week. We want to diversify because 75% of our revenues come from internal organization of events. We are also working internationally to export leading brands to other countries. We have held a Fruit Attraction in Shanghai and Egypt, and ARCO, The International Contemporary Art Fair, in Lisbon. We have prioritized the Latin market, with projects in Chile, Colombia, Peru, and Mexico. We are running an exhibition center in Baja California. We know that we can make real success taking these exhibitions to other countries.

What is the distribution of your client portfolio between public and private, and what is your economic contribution?

We started doing public events two years ago. Professional events make up 85% of our portfolio. Now we are doing concerts. We have a special agreement with Mad Cool. There are peaks and troughs in the volume of events we manage. We need to focus on the summer to bring more business. We do the same with Christmas. We contribute a lot in terms of labor as we provide external works for companies coming here. Over 20,000 jobs were created in 2018. There are restaurants, hotels, and other subsidiaries. IFEMA attracts 3.6 million people every year. In 2019. we will reach 4 million. We are increasing the rate of international visitors. This is important because these visitors spend much more money than locals. We are attending many exhibitions abroad. We also visit our customers.

What is the attractiveness of Spain for the MICE sector, and why is Madrid attractive for these organizers?

Madrid undoubtedly has an advantage over any other European city with its climate, food, culture, and people. If you come to Madrid, the time after seeing an exhibition will be full of sightseeing and enjoyment. The average tourist's expenditure in Madrid is much higher than other regions that depend on beach tourism. We are three minutes away from the airport and 10 minutes from the city center via metro. We try to involve MICE attendees. It is important to have presidents of the region come and participate in these events. We are trying to open the city to these kinds of events . We are organizing events at the venue as well as in Madrid, where there are spectacular spaces available. Madrid has great potential, and public officials are working to improve the city's brand internationally. Our big advantage is sports. The last four Champions League finals had two teams from Madrid playing. There are so many things to do that are unique to Madrid. Real Madrid has a box to for attendees of our events. We work closely with public authorities to improve Madrid. The city government has 31% of our shares, the regional government, or autonomous community, has another 31%, and the remainder is held by the private sector, represented by the Chamber of Commerce and a foundation. IFEMA is the second biggest engine for the region after the airport. The shareholders see IFEMA as a good tool to extend Madrid's brand and attract international tourists, especially in the MICE segment. When I started I did not want a political seat. All the parties involved were aligned with IFEMA's objectives. I built a strategic plan to double the size of IFEMA in five years. We are currently overachieving that target. We are in a transformation plan that is providing the expected results. One example is the expansion of the Valdebebas Campus. That expansion is going well.

What are some of IFEMA's plans for 2020?

We will be working on two big projects to make IFEMA more international. We will also work on widening the portfolio of products that we offer. We see a variety of new things that can be done at the Congress Palace. We are planning to build other new products that will be released in 2020. All of our events are different, which is the most amazing thing that we have. We start the year with Fitur, then the Fashion Show, followed by gifts, furniture, and jewelry. There is so much variety week to week.