In conversation with Guido Fornelli, Chairperson, International Exhibition Logistics Association (IELA)


Guido owns a degree in Business Administration and based his entire career in freight forwarding and exhibitions and events logistics within Expotrans, where he became Managing Director in 2005. Under his leadership, the Company has grown from 2 to 6 branches in Italy and 1 office in Moscow becoming official freight forwarder and handling contractor at Fiera Milano, Rimini Fiera, Fiera di Vicenza and Crocus Expo. He has been an active participant of IELA since 1992 and elected Member of the Board of IELA from 2003 to 2008. Meanwhile, he has always deeply supported the Association´s life also as a member or chairperson of different working committees. His Specialties: International business, Organization, marketing, problem solving and logistic solutions. His valuable insights on exhibition industry and role of IELA in post covid era :

Please introduce us to your organisation, its legacy and the services that you provide.

Guido Fornelli. Expotrans is a 30 year old Italian freight forwarder with core businesses in shipments and logistics for exhibitions, congresses, live events and fine arts movements -in a few words, everything about time critical deliveries. Our mission is to provide excellence as a standard for our services offered to customers. For this reason our efforts are always oriented towards accurately training our staff and finding hi-tech solutions for event logistics. We offer our clients all-in services from collection to delivery of goods to the event location, wherever necessary. We can provide every kind of service related to shipments and logistics: packing, insurance, booking of transportation, communication with our international Partners in the arrival Country, etc.

We are an official freight forwarder and logistics operator in some of the most important exhibition grounds in Italy (Fiera Milano, Rimini Fiera, Fiera di Vicenza and Fiere di Parma). Expotrans is naturally devoted to internationality: in 2008 we opened our branch in Moscow and within a few years, we have become the official freight forwarder at Crocus Expo. Expotrans Singapore is the latest newly- born company we established at the end of 2020 together with Priscilla Leong, who is a well-known professional of our industry, with a strong focus on digital applications development in the exhibition logistic industry.

Please tell us about the major shows that you have handled.

Guido Fornelli. Expotrans before the pandemic was used to work on approx 1.000 shows yearly both as on-site agent in Italy and abroad, mainly carrying all “Made in Italy“ products. It’s difficult to rank the most important ones. I would say for me as an individual it has been particularly exciting to handle all the Telecom Shows in Geneva during the 90’s, later the big machinery shows in Milan such as EMO, ITMA, Plast IpackIma and last but not least the “classic” aerospace most well-known events Farnborough and Paris Air show.

Can you relate one incidence where you or your team handled crisis situation on the site of an event successfully?

Guido Fornelli. Working on the largest exhibition grounds and having thirty years of experience, we have developed a great ability to predict and avoid problems. Of course, this capability is not always sufficient to avoid critical situations. Just to mention one of the latest examples, we had many problems, just like all freight forwarders around the world, when a cargo ship ran aground in the Suez Canal in late March 2021, creating chain delays for all waiting vessels. To get the goods of one of our customers who had to exhibit at the Xiamen Stone Fair to arrive on time, we removed the container already introduced in the port (which had therefore already undergone the export customs formalities), brought it to our warehouse and booked and boarded it on a last-minute flight to Xiamen. It was great teamwork and a great effort. We were rewarded by the satisfaction of the customer who managed to successfully participate in the exhibition.

How has been your association with IELA and what role do you see for the association in the global exhibition industry?

Guido Fornelli. We started our company business in 1990 and joined IELA immediately in 1992. If I look at our company development, IELA has been for sure one of the crucial factors for our company growth along our 30 year history. It has been the platform where we have built all our strongest business relationships and where even today we share best practices with our partners and have the possibility to remain updated about our segment trends as well as those in the exhibition industry.

I’m sure IELA will continue playing a significant role in the future event industry as well as among major international associations.

What are your comments on the IELA Congress and IELA events held annually?

Guido Fornelli. This year we tried really hard to come back to a physical congress but, as in most of the cases for events, we had to go digital. From the beginning of the pandemic, our secretariat has been incredibly efficient in supporting us to develop digital events to keep the spirit of our members and partners high as well as continuing training activity. I must admit that even if I’m not a strong supporter of digital events, I was personally very happy about all our event results, particularly our congress which remains the strongest business platform for the exhibition logistic industry and today is attracting lots of personalities to discuss trends in the whole event industry.

This makes us particularly proud of the work we have been doing for so many years now to build bridges with all the other players in the industry.

What according to you will be the top trends of the industry in upcoming one year?

Guido Fornelli. In short how to combine what we learned in terms of digital applications to events, a strong attention to the possibility of creating more attractive shows through efficiency, modularity and sustainability. Last but not least, making exhibitors feel the exhibition area is the safest place to be by introducing new solutions and very strict protocols.

What have been the learnings from this global pandemic?

Guido Fornelli. The COVID-19 pandemic completely caught us and the entire exhibition industry by surprise. It was (and still is) a long period for questioning, reasoning and studying strategies. We have learned not to take anything for granted and to try to predict even the unpredictable. We also had the proof that our members’ commitment to quality over the years has helped in maintaining contacts with our customers even during the worst period of the pandemic. It was natural that they considered new solutions together with their clients for the restart of exhibitions.

How have you evolved your services to suit the new normal?ES. How have you evolved your services to suit the new normal?

Guido Fornelli. First things first: human health and safety are the top priorities. IELA worked quickly to create guidelines to prevent COVID during on-site operations and all of us individually implemented procedures within our own offices and the venues where we work.

What is your view on the role of technology in our industry?

Guido Fornelli. Technology will play a very important role in the “new now”, not only to create new event concepts, but also to create, as I stated earlier, a safer more efficient and sustainable environment on-site. I’m sure a lot of complex but also smaller digital applications will arise which will dramatically change logistics activity in the years to come, thanks to what we can now implement with AI and IoT.

What would be your message to the industry?

Guido Fornelli. Quoting Elizabeth Niehaus, the IELA unstoppable Executive Officer, the exhibition and event industry is a truly global industry made of resilient, creative and strong people. The Human Factor is the answer to all new threats. The Exhibition Industry showed a great sense of awareness, building bridges between the different actors on stage. I think we are going in the right direction by creating alliances within the industry. This will make us stronger in the future! Let’s remain confident. We are already receiving positive feedback that physical exhibitions will be back to play a central role in pushing the global economy.