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ANTONY REEVE-CROOK LOOKS BEYOND SPAIN'S CREAKING ECONOMY AND FINDS REAL WEALTH IN THE UNEXPLORED OPPORTUNITY AWAITING ITS EXHIBITION INDUSTRYFERIA HYSTERIANowhere is this evidenced better than in the north eastern city Zaragoza, host of Expo 2008, a major world's fair event focused on water and sustainable development. The venue has almost 190,000sqm of covered space and a noticeable dearth of international exhibitions. The country has huge appeal for tourists, major investment potential as Europe's fi fth largest economy and all in all more than 80 exhibition centres of varying size. And before anybody plays the economy card, Spain's problems with fi lling the space available in its nationwide network of pain's leading cities are among the best-known exhibition destinations in Europe. As with the German model, they are publicly owned, but as is often the case, the public sector is not entirely in step with private enterprise. Outside of Spain's major exhibition hubs; the industrial heavyweight Bilbao, commercial and Catalan capital Barcelona, coastal city and host of this year's UFI Congress Valencia, and national seat of governance Madrid, there are many venues in Spain that are simply devoid of the international exhibitions they are well capable of hosting.

exhibition sheds precedes the global fi nancial crisis. Far from being an excuse for the issue, the crisis is a reason for a renewed commitment to pack these venues with people. Spanish recovery is dependent on its export industry. So what needs to be done to fi ll these venues? "We are aware of the situation that Spain is facing, and it's not the best for our industry," concedes Jose Miguel Corres, CEO of Bilbao Exhibition Centre. "Like everybody in the sector, we are always considering new projects. At the moment we have two projects ready to be launched. The big question is when? Firms need to make cash before attending shows or engaging in other marketing activities. That is the situation we are in. We are aware that the 'early bird catches the worm' but we also know that a good project could be ruined by bad timing."Bilbao's industrial prominence in Spain means the majority of its shows sit in sectors such as heavy industry, steel production, forging, capital goods, machine tools, automotive engineering and energy. As a result its major shows are related to B2B, machine tools (BieMH), hardware