Pandemic wreaks havoc on international exhibiting—for now

By Jesse Robitaille

Uncertainty abounds about the series of world stamp exhibitions managed by the Fédération Internationale de Philatélie (FIP), according to a recent statement from the Swiss-based philatelic group.

Responsible for exhibiting at the international level, the FIP has more than 90 “member federations,” including Canada, with eligibility to enter world stamp exhibitions it grants patronage or auspices. But with governments around the world enacting widespread travel bans, event cancellations and social-distancing measures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, several major international exhibitions have been cancelled.

“Due to the rapid spread of the Coronavirus since it began in December 2019, almost all of our members are in lockdown of some type or another,” said FIP President Bernie Beston in a statement issued March 26 on behalf of the FIP board of directors.

In mid-March, London 2020 – originally scheduled for this May and with more than 70 countries slated to participate – was postponed until Feb. 19-26, 2022.

“The two largest expenses were the venue, the Business Design Centre (BDC), and the DoubleTree Hotel group,” said Frank Walton, chair of the London 2020 organizing committee.

Organizers would’ve had to forfeit a “substantial fee,” Walton added, but the BDC contract allowed them to reschedule at no cost.

“Had we forfeited, then quite simply the organizers would have gone bankrupt as it could not have refunded the booth holders or the exhibitors.”

The “only choice,” Walton said, was to reschedule—but there were other considerations.

“The BDC is normally booked up several years in advance, and an international stamp exhibition requires all the floor space for a 12-day period. There were simply not gaps in the bookings until 2023.”

The Philatelic Traders Society – a British dealer’s association that organizes the biannual Stampex shows – offered its future booking dates to allow London 2020 to be rescheduled.

The “substantial deposit” for hotel bookings – the other major challenge – will be rolled over to the new dates, added Walton, who also invited people to submit concepts for a redesigned London 2022 logo via chairman@london2020.co.

McLaughlin (right) enjoys last year’s Royal Convention in Mississauga with George Pepall, former president of the Royal Philatelic Society of Canada. This year’s Royal Convention in Fredericton was cancelled due to COVID-19.

CAPEX 22

While any potential conflicts with London 2022 are expected to be minimal, show cancellations during the COVID-19 pandemic might prevent some exhibitors from qualifying for upcoming exhibitions, including Capex 22 in Canada.

All exhibits in FIP international exhibitions need to qualify to compete by taking the top prize at a national exhibition accredited by an FIP member federation. In Canada, that means an exhibit aiming for the international level would first need to win a Grand Award at a national-level show—and three of Canada’s five national shows have already been cancelled for 2020.

The four-day international exhibition Capex 22 will be held in June 2022 in the Greater Toronto Area.

“In addition to London 2022, there’s going to be at least one other show – maybe two other shows – in Europe in 2022 as well,” said David McLaughlin, chair of the Royal Philatelic Society of Canada’s international liaison committee.

“But I don’t think any of that’s going to affect Capex 22, and the reason is we have a new genre for a show. This is a one-frame show – the first world one-frame show that’s ever been held – so we’re marketing our product to a different audience than the other shows.”

Capex 22 is also currently the only show scheduled in 2022 outside of Europe.

“The biggest market for us to acquire exhibitors from is the United States,” added McLaughlin. “That’s essentially where one-frame exhibiting got started, and there’s a large amount of one-frame exhibits in the United States. We expect to get a significant number of applications from there, as well as some from Europe.”

CANCELLED OR POSTPONED…

International-level exhibitors need to qualify for competition by winning a Grand Award at a national-level show, but three of Canada’s five national shows have already been cancelled this year.

While Indonesia 2020 is postponed from August until Nov. 5-10 of this year, Bulgaria 2020 was cancelled as a state of emergency was declared in the Balkan nation.

“The borders have been closed, activities of state institutions and public organizations have been suspended or minimized almost to rock-bottom level,” said Spas Panchev, president of the Union of Bulgarian Philatelists, who added public-health officials in Bulgaria are expecting cases of COVID-19 to peak in that country in September.

“Only food stores, bank offices and branches and pharmacies operate in the country by now. The activity of restaurants and hotels is blocked.”

Ecuador’s Exfigua 2020 – a Federación Inter-Americana de Filatelia (FIAF) exhibition with FIP sponsorship – has also been cancelled by organizers.

Another upcoming FIAF exhibition with FIP sponsorship is St. Pierre and Miquelon’s SPM Expo, which is postponed until June 2021.

The 38th Asian International Stamp Exhibition, Taipei 2020, which is held with FIP recognition under the auspices of the Federation of Inter-Asian Philately (FIAP), is postponed from this October until June 4-8, 2021.

Other postponed FIP-sponsored exhibitions include Italy’s Tarvisio – a Federation of European Philatelic Associations event now scheduled for June 10-13, 2021 – and Bangladesh’s Banglapex, whose new dates are forthcoming.

‘USUALLY OVERSUBSCRIBED’

McLaughlin believes the pandemic’s long-term impact on international exhibiting will be minimal.

“I don’t think it’s going to have a really detrimental effect because all of the international shows are usually oversubscribed right now,” he said, adding it’s “not uncommon” for shows with space for 2,000 frames to receive applications for 3,200 frames – like in Prague in 2018.

“London was also well over-subscribed, so they expanded the number of frames but were still oversubscribed at that point, so some exhibits got turned down.”

For international exhibitions, that’s the “usual situation,” he added.

“If COVID-19 has any impact on exhibiting, I think there will still be sufficient people wanting to exhibit that they’ll be able to continue with exhibitions – maybe not with the amount of over-subscription they’ve had in the past, but they’ll be able to continue.”

FIP CONGRESS

The 76th FIP Congress is also postponed and will “most likely be rescheduled,” according to Beston, until Nov. 10 of this year.

“The FIP board shall review the global situation and … decide by July 2020 if the exhibition and the congress can proceed as planned.”

The FIP’s latest Jury Academy, scheduled to take place in London, England, with 30 trainees later this month, is also cancelled.

“The essence of the course is ‘continuing professional development’ so that exhibitors receive a more consistent and fair evaluation,” Beston told CSN last November. “From this course we shall refine some of the more positive aspects of exhibitor feedback.”

In his statement this March, he added: “Our priority is to ensure that all philatelists and stakeholders continue to stay safe and healthy. We do implore you to restrict your movements and travel until the world returns to normal.” 

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