Tokyo in a bind

The city faces a severe exhibition space shortage with the postponement of the Olympics

The postponement of the Olympics to 2021 will disrupt large swaths of exhibition capacity at venues such as Tokyo Big Sight (pictured), which have been converted to serve as official broadcast and press halls. Credit: Tokyo Big Sight

TOKYO - The postponement of the Olympics has created a severe space shortage in Tokyo for exhibitions. The country's largest exhibition centre, Tokyo Big Sight, had been requisitioned by the Tokyo Olympic Committee and International Olympic Committee to be converted into the official international broadcast and press venues.

Its East exhibition halls - almost 60% of the centre's total hall space of 116,540 sqm - have been out of commission since April 2019 to allow for the space to be converted into the International Broadcast Center. This involved building an entire double-deck floor arrangement within the halls, fitted with enhanced air-conditioning and electrical supply systems.

"The postponement of the Olympics adds to the chronic situation facing the exhibition industry, as a large amount of capacity at Tokyo Big Sight and Makuhari Messe will be unavailable until after the Olympics.

"With no visibility as to how long this situation will continue, it is very difficult to plan ahead," said Mr Christopher Eve, managing director of Informa Markets Japan, who also chairs Japan Exhibition Association's (JEXA) international promotion committee.

Expect bankruptcies, mergers and consolidation: Christopher Eve, managing director, Informa Markets Japan, who also chairs JEXA's international promotion committee

With the Olympics shifted to the summer of 2021, this means that these venues will be unavailable for other exhibitions until December 2021. JEXA estimates that this will mean an estimated 1.5 trillion yen (US$13,938 million) in losses for some 50,000 companies, including exhibitions, sponsoring companies and associated services.

A large number of exhibitions that had been planned between the autumn of 2020 and autumn of 2021 will have to be rescheduled, reduced in size or cancelled.

Organisers are faced with the task of finding alternative venues for exhibitions contracted from December 2020 to end-2021 at the centre's East halls - a challenge with a full schedule of exhibitions in the West and South halls.

Mr Eve says that one possible solution to ease the space crunch is to move some exhibitions to the 23,240sqm Aomi temporary halls, which were built to relieve some of the capacity shortage caused by the Olympics. The halls were scheduled to be demolished in December 2020.

JEXA is petitioning the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, the owner of Tokyo Big Sight, for the usage period of the Aomi halls to be extended until the end of 2021.

"We have yet to hear a definite response, but I am hopeful that this will be possible," Mr Eve said.

Even with the approval for extended use, the challenge remains to accommodate a full calendar of exhibitions in the East halls into one-third the space at the Aomi halls.

Japan's exhibition industry will, for now, have to face the painful prospect that some of Japan's leading tradeshows may not be held for two years in a row.

Apart from general assistance plans that have been announced by the government, there are currently no programmes aimed specifically at the exhibition industry.

JEXA warned that the pullout of large-scale exhibitions will be "catastrophic" for the industry's large number of SMEs, who could be forced out of business without exhibition opportunities or compensation.

"I do expect that if this situation continues for much longer, I think it is inevitable that we will see bankruptcies, mergers and consolidation among some of the companies in the industry," said Mr Eve.