The new Züspa: "The focus is on experiences"

Published on 9/21/2016 by Andrina Augustin

Züspa is reinventing itself: the traditional Zurich autumn fair is opening from 23 September to 2 October with the three experience worlds of "Feel Swiss", "Feel Good" and "Feel Stylish" for the first time. The highlight is the "Zürich by Night" show. With virtual reality, visitors will be able to see the city as they have never seen it before. In the interview, exhibition director Renzo Cannabona reveals what awaits visitors at the new Züspa, explains its transformation into a fair providing experiences and tells how he came from the Swiss Army to join Messe Zürich.

Züspa 2015, Messe Zürich (MCH Group)

Renzo, this year’s Züspa is set to be a new and different one. How have you reorganised the traditional exhibition, and what's in store for the visitors?

We have adapted Züspa so that it is more in tune with what today’s visitors need. Experience is what they are primarily looking for, and that is what we are aiming to give them. We have broken away from the “classical” exhibitor structure and created three new experience worlds which are being showcased in the appropriate manner. It goes without saying that exhibitors will still be in evidence, but they will be grouped together thematically into experience worlds. How the halls are decorated and the ambience that prevails is of great importance, and we have invested in that. "Feel Swiss" stands for love of one's homeland and local patriotism. "Feel Good" reflects daily life with wellbeing, health and sport. Each and every one of us occasionally treats ourselves to things that are exclusive and special, and these can be found in "Feel Stylish". With this configuration, we are catering for three important facets of our visitors’ needs.

We are also particularly proud of our new highlights, which are now also incorporated thematically in the experience worlds.

What has prompted this restructuring?

Our general consumer exhibitions are up against massive pressure from the retail trade. It is true that visitors are still busily buying things at our exhibitions, but 80% of their purchases are made spontaneously. People decide to go to an exhibition primarily in search of experiences and no longer in order to buy things. Following last year’s Züspa, it became clear to us that the time had come to take a bold step along those lines and to rejuvenate and modernise Züspa. We want to occupy a permanent slot in Zurich’s busy calendar of events once again and to give the people of Zurich a new reason to visit us.

The “Zurich by Night” show takes visitors on a truly special journey through their favourite city. What awaits us there?

“Zurich by Night” is our absolute highlight this year, and we’re particularly proud of it. It’s a work that has been created by our team, from the original idea through to its realisation down to the very last detail. Two photographers spent three years collecting more than 90 000 images of Zurich and Switzerland (both as films and stills), and the crucial point is that it was all done at night! An exhibition of photographs, a lounge cinema and six virtual-reality glasses present Zurich and Switzerland from a previously unknown perspective. We’ve put everything we’ve got into this project, not only because it fits in perfectly with the new Züspa, but because all of us were so impressed by it the first time we saw it. Even though I myself have spent lots of time making this highlight into a reality, I never get tired of looking at those pictures and videos, and every day I see them they astonish me all over again. I’m sure the show will have the same impact on you too.

Züspa has now been attracting people to the exhibition grounds in Oerlikon since 1949. What is it that keeps on appealing to them every autumn after so many years?

Today, the principal motives driving exhibition visitors are experiences and tradition. Of these, tradition remains an important driving force for our older visitors, who still keep on loyally attending the exhibition. The desire to experience something has almost completely replaced the need to go and buy things and is growing still further amongst our primary target group – families with children as well as couples and singles in the 30-45 age bracket. Faced with all the special-interest events going on in Zurich and the highest concentration of organised events anywhere in Switzerland, it’s not an easy undertaking for us, but I’m convinced that precisely an exhibition like Züspa can find its place in the times in which we live. Züspa has historical roots, yet it is modern at the same time. We provide a platform for all possible interests that might be on the Zurich agenda. We belong to Zurich. The name Züspa enjoys a high level of familiarity throughout Canton Zurich, but that unfortunately often constitutes a challenge too, because it is associated in people’s minds with things from the past, and their perceptions of Züspa no longer reflect what it has now become. The new Züspa is going to show Zurich exhibition goers that it has been able to keep up with the times and create new stimuli. This shift requires both time and patience, however.

Before you started to work for the exhibition, you used to be an exhibitor yourself. What brought you to Messe Zürich and to Züspa?

At the time, I was an event manager with the Swiss army. In addition to looking after 13 careers fairs, I was a member of a team of three with responsibility for a large-scale, travelling annual event occupying around 13 000 m2. I scarcely knew the MCH Group in those days, but one of my soldiers who had a job with them in Basel, recommended MCH to me as an exciting employer. I had an army stand at the careers fair in Zurich and, while there, I got to know various MCH employees. Shortly after that, a job became vacant, and I applied for it without hesitation. I had heard of Züspa, although I did not know it well, but it didn't take me long at all to discover how attractive it is, since it is an exhibition that has changed greatly and is still continuing to change. I saw it – and still see it – as a big personal challenge.

Renzo Cannabona (MCH Group)
Renzo Cannabona

What are your duties as exhibition manager? And is your work over when the exhibition doors open or is that when it really starts up again?

That is a question that I keep getting asked, more or less along the lines of: “what do you do for the rest of the year, when there’s no exhibition on?” The aftermath of one exhibition is the run-up to the next one, and it would be the target for planning to be roughly one-and-a-half years ahead. After Züspa, my team works for Giardina and SWISS-MOTO. Since January, however, I have had Marlene Oberteufer working with me as head of communications and helping me further develop Züspa and move nearer to that target.
We’ve already got lots of ideas for the 2017 edition, and once an exhibition has finished, we have to set about analysing them, filtering them and then putting the finishing touches to them. I always endeavour to ensure that my team has the highest level of information and is involved in all projects even if they are working for the other exhibitions, because their opinions are just as important. I can tap into up to 15 years of experience within my team. At present, we are dealing with pure practicalities: where are decorative plants still needed, detailed planning of the opening event with the presenter, coordination of the cooking shows, programming the VR spectacles, giving interviews and a whole host of other activities too. The pressure goes up when the exhibition starts and, with a certain tenseness, we follow what the weather is doing and how successful Züspa is turning out to be. After half-time, the pressure eases off a bit, but precisely this year observing how our new Züspa is received is going to be the principal job to be done throughout the whole duration of the exhibition. We are on tenterhooks to find out what reactions there are going to be to the many changes.

Züspa 2016 is being held from 23 September to 2 October 2016 at Messe Zürich. All the information at www.zü
The Veggieworld, Hund Katze & Co. and Creativa Zürich fairs are being held in parallel. More information at:

Andrina Augustin

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