There is a constant flow of visitors in and out of El Prat Airport all year long. Many come to Barcelona for pure pleasure however there are also a large number of travelers that come regularly strictly for business purposes and find themselves at the major trade fair site, Fira de Barcelona.
But this isn’t a new modern phenomenon. Barcelona and the Catalonia region as a whole, has long been known for their economic prowess within the Spanish territory stemming from the trade fair business, which has a long heritage dating back to the ear1y 1800’s. In Barcelona, in particular, it all began with the General Exhibition of Barcelona in 1844, then the Exhibition of Industry, Arts and Trades in 1860 followed by the General Catalan Exhibition of 1871 and the Exhibition of Catalan Products in 1877.
All of these fairs captured a great number of visitors however there was one major fair that was a turning point for the city instigating the local government to think strongly about the positive financial ramifications of having a permanent trade fair in Barcelona. The Universal Exhibition of 1888 was the fair. Covering 450,000 square meters of space with over 2.5 million visitors over a 5-month period, the Exhibition put Barcelona on the map increasing its international exposure, its relevance as a burgeoning metropolis and initiated the beginning of the trade fair business that continues on today at the Fira de Barcelona.
It was in 1920 that a joint commission of the local Chamber of Commerce, City Council and the Community of Catalonia along with another regional organization that the city’s goal of becoming a destination city for trade fairs came to fruition. Although in previous years other important trade shows had taken place like the International Motor Show of 1919. Following the agreement to host a permanent trade fair the Universal Exhibition returned nine years later and in 1932 the Fira de Barcelona was officially constituted.
First and foremost, the Fira de Barcelona is a major money maker for the city and the revenue generated from congresses, conventions and fairs has a major trickle down affect. For one, all hotels within Barcelona operate year around at 90% capacity. It’s astounding to know that when you compare the ratio of hotels to the size of the city. It’s not a proven fact but it appears as though a new hotel is always being built. In the last year on my tiny little street alone, I have seen an apart-hotel and executive apartment building open for business.
On a broader scale, the Fira plays an important strategic role in the promotion and international expansion for Catalan and Spanish companies, which is key in maintaining a thriving economy. Furthermore, in times of economic crisis the support it provides by energizing productivity through proposing initiatives to facilitate shows and the cross pollination of ideas between local and international companies is highly regarded. The Catalan public is very aware of the significance of the Fira and is a major proponent of maintaining a trade fair that is modern, competitive and adaptable to confront the globalization of the business world.
Currently the Fira de Barcelona has an impressive portfolio of 80 fairs that convenes 40,000 companies and 3.5 million visitors. 15 of these 80 shows are the three leading conventions within their sector in Europe. In total, the events run the gamut from beauty and fashion fairs to more high-tech and industrial shows as well as the extraneous like the Comix fair and the European meeting of Harley Davidson Owners. One of the most revered international congresses that the Fira has hosted since 2006 is the 3GSM Mobile World Congress, the one and only convention for the mobile phone industry. This show is a perfect example of the institution’s commitment to having a presence on the international stage. At the 2010 exhibition in February it was tallied that a whopping 49,000 visitors from 200 countries were in attendance including 2800 CEO’s.
I remember this mammoth of a conference the first time it took place in Barcelona because it coincided with my first visit to the city. El Prat was chaotic buzzing with the arrivals of business travelers. As my taxi cab drove past Plaza Espana, where the Fira de Barcelona is located, I was flabbergasted at what I saw. It looked like Times Square or downtown Shanghai during rush hour. The traffic, the mass of people and the huge signage that hung draped over the façade of the buildings wasn’t at all what I had in mind when thinking of Barcelona. It screamed, big city!
Later I would familiarize myself with the Fira; first as a tourist visiting the surrounding area of Montjuic and the Font de Magica and after moving to Barcelona attending a variety of conventions related to work.
The Fira de Barcelona physically has two exhibition venues, Gran Via and Montjuic, with a total area of 365,000 square meters. Both locations are equipped with state-of-the -art technology and a blarge range of services. Additionally they have two sites that are geared towards congresses and conferences and they are: The Palau de Congressos de Barcelona and the Gran Via Convention Center.
For more information about the Fira de Barcelona, their calendar of conventions or about exhibiting at one of their locations you can log onto www.fira.es.