The Madrid International Real Estate Exhibition (SIMA) 2011 in Madrid had the task of promoting, in the eyes of many, the disease as part-cure to a sour economic situation.
THE ABANDONED VENDE (FOR SALE) SIGNS ARE STILL STANDING OUTSIDE THE SMALL TOWN NEAR THE SPANISH CITY OF SESEÑA, half an hour south of Madrid. It’s a ghost town, a sci-fi movie scene of a place suddenly abandoned by its inhabitants. However, the Residencial Francisco Hernando settlement has for years remained virtually empty not because its inhabitants abandoned it, but because they never arrived. Of the 13,500 apartments that entrepreneurial Spaniard Francisco Hernando aspired to construct, planned to house about 40,000 people, he only managed to complete 5,000, of which 40 percent were seized by banks.
Hernando’s most ambitious project became a monument to the Spanish construction industry’s rise and fall. It sits eerily in the desert as a reminder of the big bubble that was the Spanish real estate market, a period from about 1985 to 2008 in which housing prices increased giddily before tumbling spectacularly. With banks lavishing loans on the purchase and construction of houses and buildings, many property developers were severely affected when demand abruptly diminished, compounded by the realization that the number of foreign buyers wishing to purchase a house in Spain was far fewer than initially anticipated.
Three years after the bubble burst, leading to a spike in unemployment from the construction industry’s demise and simultaneously dragging the country’s economic indicators into recession, the Madrid International Real Estate Exhibition (SIMA) 2011, held June 2-5 in the Feria de Madrid (IFEMA) exhibition center, had the task of promoting, in the eyes of many, the disease as part-cure to the economic situation.
“The market collapsed because of the credit crisis: activity decreased dramatically, something that affected the prices and forced many companies to vanish,” said Eloy Bohúa, managing director of SIMA and director general of Planner Reed. “Under these circumstances, the hosting of an exhibition on the real estate market is a difficult case.
“From the beginning of the 2000s, the Spanish economy experienced significant growth in almost every sector,” he continued. “The real estate market for several years benefited from the availability of credit combined with very low rates. Also, the housing market scored a demand explosion, a result of domestic growth and the need for country houses, including for foreign buyers.”
With the headier years seeming like decades ago, the factors influencing SIMA 2011 and the challenges faced by organizers are not limited to the crisis in the Spanish real estate market, but exacerbated by the bleak international economic climate, traditionally a main source of Spanish real estate sales.
“The economic recession in the U.S. and Europe, of course, affected the exhibition,” said Bohúa, but countered that “at this moment the Spanish market offers many opportunities, so we are very active concerning the promotion of these opportunities to foreign investors, combined with our other main objective, which is to provide investment opportunities for Spanish companies abroad.”
Think Local, Act Global
For this year’s exhibition to move in this direction and also sustain growth, SIMA included exhibitors from countries such as Brazil, Dominican Republic, Uruguay and the U.S., while for the following years has set the goal of attracting more from Latin America, including Argentina, Mexico and Peru, where a considerable number of Spanish companies are active.
A key initiative—acknowledging the potential of the growing BRIC economies—was “Brazil, Guest Country,” through which the organizers aimed to expose Spanish real estate market professionals to Brazil’s numerous investment and business opportunities and partnership potential. A Brazil-Spain Business Forum was also programmed, with more than 20 speakers attracting the attendance of more than 200 industry professionals.
Explaining the goal of this highlight event, a sign of SIMA’s outreach aspirations, Bohúa replied that it was “to identify the opportunities the Brazilian market has to offer Spanish companies which, even in this difficult time, consider the internationalization of their business activities one of the keys to their [future] development.”
A Multi-storey Event
Able to reflect on the results of the event’s previous years of turbulence to best understand how to address ongoing challenges, the organizers have recently taken the decision to increase the number of exhibitions to three per annum, seeking to hit targets and attract more exhibitors and attendees through promoting continuity.
In 2009, Planner Reed adapted SIMA’s business model in response to changing market requirements by organizing additional special events. SIMA “Autumn” was added in October, focusing on end buyers. The following March saw the first outing of SIMA “Spring,” for end buyers and professionals. Now three annual events with each targeting a different audience—the main event with an international focus—the dissected SIMA approach is able to offer different real estate stories to key industry players.
“The different events during the year have become one of the main, if not the major, platform for developers and sales agents in a way that no other marketing tool is able to collect thousands of buyers in such a short period,” Bohúa said. “The results were excellent, and we plan to keep at least three events on real estate in 2012.”
The Benefits of Refurbishment
With this major restructuring, more than 140 exhibitors of the June event drew an impressive 47,000 visitors through IFEMA’s turnstiles.
“The number of new exhibitors has grown steadily since 2009, while the quality of visitors has increased significantly, with more than 96 percent of them claiming that they participate in our exhibitions because they are seeking to buy some property,” Bohúa said.
Alongside higher rates of visitor buying potential, professional agreements have also become more prominent, Bohúa noting that “we expect a level increase of cooperation with companies from Brazil and Uruguay, which have been activated during SIMA 2011,” clarifying, however, that due to commercial sensitivity “it is difficult to detect all of them, as many of them have not been released.”
Having apparently weathered the worst of the storms to strike the industry, there was the risk that the structural damage might also have weakened the foundations. Current indications, however, are giving the organizers cautious optimism about a recovery in the years ahead and the potential for the refurbished event to benefit from this.
“Prices have fallen significantly in the housing market and that will potentially help to keep the number of house transfers up,” Bohúa said. “Nearly 500,000 home sales were recorded in Spain in 2010, but as long as the loan restrictions remain, the recovery will move slowly.”
Translating this optimism into action, this year an entirely new strategy for the online promotion of the event has been developed, implemented as a conduit for the public to remain well informed about the current state of the Spanish real estate market as well as on program additions and the exhibition’s initiatives.
“The results confirm that [the best use of] technology not only helps, but is a necessity,” Bohúa said. “Social media provides us the ability to interact, to communicate with all the potential stakeholders of the event and learn how the market works best for them.”
Building on their completely revamped website, since early this year SIMA has been running a blog continually updating subscribers with news, economic trends and industry movements, content that is then communicated via Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and YouTube.
“The cooperation with the exhibitors in this field intends to help them to develop their potential and have a better presence at the exhibition,” Bohúa said. “From our side, we encourage them to invest more resources in social media.”
Engaging these initiatives to ensure a constructive presence for exhibitors and attendees, the organizers communicated in a way that shaped the visitor experience to less time spent in the corridors and more at the pavilions. The outcome, according to Bohúa, was that “on average, a SIMA attendee visited five pavilions, and the results indicated by the exhibitors are more than good, proving the event’s efficiency.”
Identifying this kind of close cooperation with exhibitors and the industry’s professionals as the priorities for a successful course ahead, Bohúa stated that it “is the key to creating new content and ensuring that the event evolves according to the needs of the industry.”
Looking to the future, SIMA intends to build on the momentum of its international reach and focus on a targeted approach of segments of the real estate industry.
“In a short time period, we plan to extend our model by focusing on more specific markets (both geographically and according to the product category),” he added. “In the mid-term as much as the long-term period, our goal is to establish a focus on the end buyers—while SIMA remains a professional platform—and specifically to act like a bridge between the European and Latin American markets.”
As the balmy Mediterranean winds continue to blow loose sand around the Residencial Francisco Hernando, it may yet be some years before the apartments teem with the life of their intended inhabitants. But with an eye on making this become real, the SIMA event is ensuring its own foundations are firm and fast, foundations that can help to achieve an outcome important to Madrid, Spain and to Europe. One+
business of meetings,
One+ April 2012,