Martin Burlin: “EAG 2023 registered a 36 percent uplift in attendance and we are looking to build on that fantastic platform in January”
Martin Burlin, Chairman of EAG Expo has half a century’s worth of industry experience and is ideally qualified to reflect on the importance of EAG and how the industry looks to it as the bellwether for the year ahead. With his 2023 highlights including the delivery of a successful event which recorded a 36 percent lift in attendance, publication of the White Paper and the creation of a streamlined bacta, Martin remains fully-focussed on delivering a show which meets the needs of the business and lives up to it’s ‘The Year Starts Here’ campaign slogan.
How would you look back on 2023?
Obviously 2023 was a critical year for the show in a number of different ways. Firstly, it was what I would term as being our first ‘proper’ year back after the trials and tribulations of COVID which hit our customers businesses particularly hard. But it was also the first edition of EAG under the stewardship of our new Show Director, Nicola Lazenby. Nikki is no stranger to the industry having previously worked on ATEI and although she had been away from the cut and thrust of the amusements sector for a number of years she swiftly got in-step with the personalities which make our business so unique and delivered a really strong edition of EAG. Show visitors went on the record saying that they felt they’d “got their show back” and that EAG had rediscovered its mojo. These are the genuine and authentic sentiments that you want to hear as an event organiser – and they are even better when the voice from the show floor is backed up by attendance figures. EAG 2023 registered a 36 percent uplift in attendance and with it a fantastic atmosphere and some really good business: in fact, one well known exhibitor reported that they would have to restructure their orders with their manufacturing facility in order to satisfy the sales book as a result of the business written at show.
What have been your highlights over the year?
I can’t overstate the importance of delivering a really good edition of EAG. Obviously from a professional perspective it’s gratifying to know that the hard work required to deliver EAG has been worth it but more importantly it is the impact that a good EAG has on the industry. EAG sets the tone for the business, many thousands of operators look to EAG for inspiration and the innovations which make a tangible difference furthermore, the show is the single biggest selling opportunity of the year for the industry supply chain. A good EAG doesn’t guarantee a good year for the industry – but it definitely helps! Keeping on the EAG theme, we also introduced two new show floor features in the form of the Bingo Association Hub and the Safer Gambling Hub. Both were well-received, both added something new and different to the EAG experience and both are returning for 2024. Another highlight has to be the long-awaited publication of the White Paper on Gambling Reform. The proposals reflected an understanding of the low-prize, low-stake gambling entertainment sector and the changes needed in order to be competitive. Some of the proposals contained in the White Paper will, I am sure, be manifest in the product developments presented by exhibitors at EAG. Last but not least we’ve also had the restructuring of bacta. This was a result of the vision and hard work undertaken by John Bollom and his team which has resulted in a more streamlined Association and one which is fit for the 21st Century.
And the challenges - what have been the most concerning and how have you managed them?
The White Paper has had the gestation period of an elephant (literally) and when politics is concerned you can’t help but be pessimistic! Hopefully we will have the reforms in place prior to the next General Election! Anything which impacts our customers whether they are exhibitors or operators – represents a challenge. We know from our dialogue with the industry how much the sector has been hit by the across the board hikes in business costs, the scarcity of labour which has resulted in wage inflation and of course the impact of the cost of living crisis on disposable leisure spend. Added to this mix has been the quite appalling attitude of the banks. I know a number of people, who have been with the same bank for 40 or 50 years, being texted to be told that their accounts are being closed and without any further explanation. De-banking is something which is hitting our industry purely because the sanctimonious ‘bankers’ (sic) don’t agree with the type of entertainment that our industry has delivered and continues to deliver to millions of ordinary people the length and the breadth of the country. It makes my blood boil!
What objectives have you set the company for 2024?
We’ve laid the foundation stones with a really strong edition of EAG in January 2023. 12-months later I want us to build on that success and take EAG to the next level attracting a greater number of visitors from the UK and further afield. COVID hit us hard and we are in the process of taking advantage of people’s confidence in travelling and making EAG a destination event. That’s going to take some time but we are addressing the opportunities which exist. We are spreading the net in more ways than simply geography. We are committed to attracting new exhibitors from other industry sectors that use our customer’s products. Another very important personal objective is to keep waking up every morning!
How confident are you about the next twelve months: do you have high hopes for new regulation, an improving economy and growth in your business sector?
All of the points you’ve made in this question in terms of regulation, the economy and business growth are key to prosperity but experience gained from over 50-years in the business suggests they won’t happen – at the same time at least! However, this is a resilient business – arguably one of the most resilient in our economy. We are stitched into the nation’s need to experience fun. Bacta’s strapline is ‘The Serious Business of Fun’ and I can assure readers that EAG will continue to meet the needs of the business in good times and in the not so good times – something it has been doing since the earliest days of the ATE.