On 1 January 1907, an organisation in Berlin began working to represent the interests of the exhibiting industry. Calling itself the “Permanent exhibition commission of German industry”, it was the seed from which the 111-year history of AUMA would grow. AUMA is now the association for the entire German exhibition industry, for since the 1950 it has represented not only exhibitors but also organisers and visitors.
Two factors led to the founding of the exhibition commission. In the early 1900s there was an overabundance of exhibitions and a very wide range of quality. These two phenomena made it difficult for companies to choose the “right” exhibitions to participate in. In the 1920s there was even talk of a “exhibition inflation”, which led the association to formulate its three main aims: generating transparency, influencing organisers and limiting uncoordinated state support for exhibitions. At the urging of AUMA, a "Reich commissariat for exhibitions and trade fairs”) was founded in 1927. As an official part of the Ministry of Economics, it ensured a minimum level of coordination for exhibition activities by government institutions.
In 1927 the exhibition commission was shifted from the "German exhibition and trade fair agency”. It now addressed all exhibition customers. From this point on, it also represented the interests of exhibitors outside the industry as well as buyers. In 1934 the association received the name it still has today: the Ausstellungs- und Messe-Ausschuss der Deutschen Wirtschaft.
In the aftermath of the Second World War, the trade fair industry in the Federal Republic of Germany was reorganised and competition quickly intensified there. Leipzig, which had been the country’s most important trade fair location, was in East Germany, but the West German cities of Frankfurt, Hanover and Cologne competed for the “Leipzig legacy” and the notion of “trade fair wars” was born.
In 1949, AUMA was founded anew in West Germany with its previous structure. In representing the interests of the trade fair industry, it devoted intensive efforts to curbing the excesses of competition. Under AUMA’s auspices, exhibitor committees for the major trade fairs were founded in the early 1950s. Closer cooperation between organisers and exhibitors finally led to the major trade fair organisers and their associations becoming members of AUMA as of 1956. When FAMA, which represented numerous regional exhibition organisers without their own venues, joined in 1966, the entire spectrum of organisers was then represented in AUMA. For more than 50 years now, AUMA has thus been representing the shared interests of exhibitors, organisers and visitors. In 1990, right before the official reunification of Germany, Leipziger Messe joined AUMA as well.
The presence of exhibition organisers in AUMA gradually had an effect on the make-up of the Board of Directors. Today the Board consists of 11 representatives from the exhibitor and visitor side, and 11 from the organiser side. Since 1982 one of the two deputy chairmanship positions has also been held by an organiser. The chairmanship of AUMA remains reserved for a representative of the exhibiting industry, as has been the case since the association was founded.
AUMA’s membership began a period of further change in 1971. Previously only umbrella industry organisations could be members, but now industry associations from different sectors could also join. Around 30 of these industry associations are currently in AUMA. They include organisations for service providers, headed by FAMAB, which represents stand constructors and designers as well as event organisers. AUMA now comprises all of the main groups involved in designing and carrying out trade fairs: 36 organisers and operators of participations abroad and 38 associations for the exhibiting and visiting industries as well as service companies.
One of the key tasks of AUMA today is to support international marketing by exhibition companies. Back in the early 1950s AUMA was already organising joint marketing outside the country for major trade fairs in Germany. This has since been pursued in different ways, and today runs under the heading “Messen made in Germany”. The German expression “Messeplatz Deutschland” (“Germany as an exhibition center”) was coined in the late 1970s. It is a seal of quality for a system of specialised industry exhibitions that shows relatively little overlap despite robust competition.
AUMA has been successfully coordinating the Federal Republic of Germany’s foreign trade fair programme in close cooperation with the Federal Ministry of Economic Affairs since 1949. This programme, which supports primarily medium-sized companies in trade fair appearances abroad, is a key part of the German government’s promotion of foreign trade.
AUMA assumes additional key tasks today. Against the background of rising competition among communications platforms, these include general marketing for trade fairs and support for trade fairs organised by German companies in other countries. Of equal importance is the job of informing exhibitors and visitors around the world about trade fairs both in Germany and abroad, as well as a strong commitment to research and education.
Not least of all, AUMA represents the joint interests of the entire trade fair industry to policy makers. Because the EU Commission was playing an ever more significant role for service industries as well, AUMA opened an office in Brussels in 1990. And moving the headquarter from Cologne to the capital city of Berlin in 2001 has made it considerably easier to represent industry interests on the national level.
On 7 May 2007, AUMA celebrated its 100th anniversary. At the Theater des Westens in Berlin, the Chairman welcomed nearly 700 guests from government, the diplomatic corps, the exhibiting and visiting industries, exhibition organisers, service companies and the press. German President Horst Köhler talked about the important role that trade fairs play in Germany industry, and about national and international aspects of economic policy.
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