Goa: tourist paradise, exhibition hell

Was Defexpo, held this year for the first time in Goa and hailed as “Asia’s biggest defence exhibition”, actually a bit of a flop? Despite claims on the organisers’ website that there were 1,055 exhibitors from 47 countries, the real impact of this 9th Defexpo show seems to have been really limited. To such a point that after FOB’s first visit to India we can only hope for one thing: the return of Defexpo to its traditional New Delhi venue.

Beaches full, stands empty: welcome to Defexpo 2016 (Photo credit: Nathan Gain)

Beaches full, stands empty: welcome to Defexpo 2016 (Photo credit: Nathan Gain)

Of course, the size of the Indian market justifies that foreign companies should participate in such a show. Of course, the impressive alignments of exhibition tents, the security, the Defexpo 2016 posters visible in a 60km radius were, at first, reassuring as to the quality of the organisation. But, once having got through the first security hurdle, the show immediately showed its true colours: a rather hollow shell. A quick glance through the catalogue was enough to reveal that in fact barely 600 companies had really made the trip to Goa. And why?

Defexpo 2016, unfortunately moved to the open countryside in Goa

Defexpo 2016, unfortunately moved to the open countryside in Goa

Principally because of uncertainties concerning the venue and even whether the exhibition would actually take place. Usually organised in New Delhi, Defexpo this year was held in the open countryside near the village of Naqueri-Quitol, birthplace of India’s defence minister, Manohar Parrikar.

Isolated and serviced by a single, quickly jammed road, Defexpo’s new site was difficult to reach in less than an hour by car. This may have explained the sparsely populated alleys in the exhibition halls, deserted by the military and political delegations, doubtless put off by the logistical difficulties of actually getting there. And a financial loss for the French companies whose stands were not included in Parrikar’s official visit.

Even if a handful of letters of intention and protocols of understanding were signed, Defexpo might have the dubious honour of being the only defence show in 2016 at which no real contracts were signed. In fact, we noticed that the many B2B meeting rooms tended to be occupied by exhausted soldiers and visitors rather than negotiating businessmen.

It was also difficult, even for a trained eye, to find anything new. No exhibitors showed any new technologies apart from Nexter [see FOB dated 4 April], a few Indian companies and India’s Defence Research and Development Organisation.

The Arjun Mk2 tries to save the show, spoilt by thick clouds of dust (Photo credit: Nathan Gain)

The Arjun Mk2 tries to save the show, spoilt by thick clouds of dust (Photo credit: Nathan Gain)

Similarly, the vehicle demonstrations, a first for Defexpo, were a bit disappointing. The first official outing of the Arjun Mk 2 main battle tank was quickly spoiled by a thick cloud of dust, the rhythm of the show was flaccid and there was a flagrant lack of organisation (at one point the speaker just disappeared!). The consolation prize however was a spectacular show by Indian helicopter pilots.

Far from the dust, the Indian Army's acrobatic team put on an impressive show for the handful of spectators. (Photo credit: Nathan Gain)

Far from the dust, the Indian Army’s acrobatic team put on an impressive show for the handful of spectators. (Photo credit: Nathan Gain)

Something a bit different for the journalist accustomed to wearing

Goan cuisine includes many fish-based dishes

Goan cuisine includes many fish-based dishes

out his shoe leather in the alleys of trade shows was the original solution offered by Defexpo for the hungry. A sort of show in the show, two food courts allowed us a wide choice of Goanese cuisine which went some way to making up for the lack of choice in new defence technologies.

Many of the French exhibitors expressed their frustration and clearly regretted the New Delhi venue. The daily problems such as a capricious air conditioning system, the absence of marketing opportunities and the announcement of the stricter “Make in India” rules, may lead a large number of foreign companies to review their participation in this new “Eldorado”.

As for Defexpo’s permanent installation in Goa, the Indian government seems to have buried the question until the next election, scheduled for March 2017. In other words a year before the 10th edition of the show…