Australian Toy Fair | Virtual platform ‘opens international shop window’ for global visitors

The 56th Australian Toy Fair, taking place this March, may not look anything like the 55 before it ever did – or ever imagined it would – with pandemic precautions forcing it onto an all-virtual platform this year, but that doesn’t mean the show will be any smaller for it.

While international travel may still be off the cards for so many, the Australian Toy Association hasn’t limited its expectations when it comes to global visitor numbers. In fact, it’s quite the opposite; viewing the virtual move as the ‘perfect opportunity for global audiences to visit a fair that previously they may not have been able to reach.’

The past 12 months have without a doubt been wholly about adaptation, and it’s a real flex of the industry body’s ability to adapt that it approaches its annual Toy Fair with not only optimism, but excitement to be able to deliver the heritage of the show to a global audience, and who knows, maybe encourage even greater international visitor numbers when the show returns in its physical form in the future?

ToyNews catches up with Alice Sanderson, executive manager (pictured right), and Georgina Kritsilidis, event manager (pictured left) at the Australian Toy Association, to learn more about this year’s show, and the new precedent its success could set for international shows of the future.

Hello Alice, and hello Georgina, thanks for joining us. To kick us off, can you talk to us about the role of the ATA, particularly what that role has entailed over the past year and the many hurdles the toy industry has been presented with?

Alice Sanderson: The Australian Toy Association / ATA is here to represent and serve the Toy Industry in Australia. Like other Associations around the world, we assist by providing crucial data and analytics to make informed business decisions. We also support the membership with safety and compliance advice and representation and are the voice for the industry at Government levels. We continually promote the Value of Play as it is important for a child’s development and toys play a crucial role in this.

The ATA’s role is to continually evolve as the industry and climate directs us to and that has been evident over the last 12 months. With lockdown there was an explosion of purchasing online for educational and activity products; games and puzzles and other toys that parents needed to assist with home-schooling and keeping their children entertained and off technology.

We were able to connect our members and their products with influencers to assist parents in their purchase decisions. We were also an information source for any new restrictions that came into place especially when Victoria went into hard lockdown for just over three months. 

This year is the 56th Australian Toy Fair, and for obvious reasons you’ve gone digital. Can you tell us what virtual attendees can expect from the show this year? How will you be bringing the heritage and feel of the physical show in the virtual space?

Georgina Kritsilidis: The colour and vibrancy of the Fair has been translated very well digitally, as exhibitors have done such a great job at making their virtual booths and product pages look fantastic. For the first time, we also are introducing Sessions to Toy Fair which will bring international and local speakers together on the platform for video and panel content that all registrants can view. 

What opportunities does the virtual show present for you guys in terms of reaching a global audience and driving international visitor numbers? Is this an important aspect for you guys?

Kritsilidis: It’s a great opportunity for visitors who previously couldn’t attend due to travel constraints or other barriers, to get involved and immerse themselves in the excitement of Toy Fair. We’ve definitely seen an uptake in international visitors for Toy Fair Digital and hope this provides more opportunity for our exhibitors to connect on a global scale in ways they may not have been able to before. 

How do you think the success of the virtual show could impact the strategy for the Australian Toy Fair going forward? Could we see hybrid Toy Fairs in the future and could this open up new international opportunities?

Kritsilidis: We certainly need to be at the forefront of developments of all kinds for the broader industry, and integrating a hybrid aspect into Toy Fair in future is certainly something that we’d like to explore.

Technology in the event space has advanced so much in the last year alone, so it’s really exciting to explore all the prospects. In many ways the pandemic has simply acted as a catalyst for the direction in which the trade show industry was heading already. 

Obviously, so much of the B2B event space is about networking opportunities – will you provide a platform for this with the virtual Toy Fair?

Kritsilidis: We wanted to encourage networking between exhibitors and attendees as much as possible, so running the Fair on a 24-hour basis over the five days is a great way to allow people to have the time and flexibility to do so, around their other responsibilities.

Another standout feature of our digital platform is the strong networking capabilities; it is integrated with powerful AI so that each user will receive a completely unique experience based on how they interact with the platform. 

Internationally, different markets have taken different approaches to the Toy Fair season this year. Why was it important for you guys to adopt the strategy of the virtual show the way you have?

Alice Sanderson: We felt that not having anything at this time of year would create a large void and our members and the industry, need this opportunity to source new product and brands. March has always been the buying time for Christmas so if we can’t have a physical then it just made sense that we have a digital event that would take its place for 2021. 

Do you think the success of the virtual show could drive physical visitor numbers up in coming years? Particularly from an international position?

Georgina Kritsilidis: Certainly, particularly if we were to adopt a hybrid format. The accessibility of Toy Fair to the broader industry is paramount so that both attendees and exhibitors can get the best out of their experience. 

What will you miss the most not having a physical show this year? What are you most excited to discover from the virtual show?

Georgina Kritsilidis: Of course we will miss the industry coming together at a physical Fair and seeing all the familiar faces! The people are truly what makes Toy Fair special, but we are lucky enough to be able to replicate some of that feeling virtually through video chat meetings and virtual events such as our live-streamed Awards Ceremony where will come together for a digital celebration of the industry on the opening night of the Fair. 

We look forward to seeing everyone online at Toy Fair Digital and the Awards Ceremony for a brand-new Toy Fair experience.

About Robert Hutchins

Robert Hutchins is the editor of ToyNews and its sister title, Licensing.biz. He has worked his way from Staff Writer to Editor across the two titles, having spent almost eight years with both and what now seems like a lifetime surrounded by toys. You can contact him by emailing robert.hutchins@biz-media.co.uk or calling him on 0203 143 8780 You can even follow him on Twitter @RobGHutchins if ranting is your thing...

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