Logistics plays a major part in the life of a touring exhibition and in many respects, it could be considered one of the most challenging aspects to a tour. Lack of shipping space, incorrect customs paperwork, port closures, oversized crates, items that need replacing – there are many areas in logistics that can affect schedules and jeopardise the entire production. Uncertainty and change are at the heart of touring exhibitions logistics, and this can present many challenges throughout the life of an exhibition. So how can you navigate through all these variables when considering your next exhibition launch or the next leg of a tour to an unfamiliar location?
From chartering 747 aircrafts containing artefacts to hallmarking jewellery to be sold at an exhibition store, and not to mention moving precious freight such as the James Webb telescope for NASA (slightly off topic), we are having an interesting journey in the touring world of logistics. We would like to share here some insights to help avoid some of the unsuspecting issues that can arise along the way in touring logistics. Hopefully making your next tour that little bit less stressful.
Beyond the ATA
Using ATA carnets, which are often compared to a passport for freight, can be a efficient way of shipping exhibits across international borders. But it’s a common misconception that using an ATA carnet is the best method to move a tour around the world. It might not always be the case when you consider a few key areas. Firstly, not every country has signed up to the carnet system, and even some countries that have signed up prefer not to use them. Also, carnets can be limited to 1 year or 2 years and may need customs approval in certain regions to extend validity. If the carnet is to expire, the freight really has to return back to the country of origin, otherwise you might receive extra charges relating to the value of the goods, and that can prove expensive.
An interesting alternative to the ATA carnet we have been using to move numerous exhibitions is the temporary import status, where the exhibition clears under bond, avoiding import duty and taxes. In most locations, the local logistics company will cover the bond and charge a small percentage of the cost to the organiser. Placing a bond in each new location allows the tour to continue, with no real limitations on the timeline. This also means you can transfer assets back to storage after the exhibition has closed or to join other tours across international borders. As long as the bond is cleared once the exhibition closes and moves onwards to its next location, a temporary import can be a great way to keep a tour flexible and open to new locations.
Another important aspect to customs is using the correct Importer of Record (IoR), the local entity responsible for the importation, to clear the exhibition under their name. Many public institutions, such as museums, have exonerations in place for import taxes and duties. If you are looking to ship artefacts or high value objects on loan, then it is always best to check first if the venue is accredited with any exemptions and if they are willing to act as the IoR. This could potentially save a large amount of guarantee or bond fees and can really make the whole import process much smoother. Otherwise, you might need to pay a huge customs deposit for the customs import duty and VAT or fund the guarantee required to issue the ATA Carnet before you export the exhibition.
From a recent experience, we compared clearing artefacts under a newly set up entity to using the local institution and we found that customs would not even allow the clearance under the newly set up company. The clearance had either to be completed under the museum or under the name of the logistics company acting as the art handler.
Moving large volumes of exhibitory can be a daunting task when working around time constraints whilst keeping a close eye on the logistics budget. If the next leg of the tour moves across borders internationally, for instance in Europe, it might be good to consider using the shipping line to terminate the container inland throughout Europe and avoid trucking to optimise the carbon footprint and also budgets. For instance, if you’re shipping by sea to an exhibition venue in Madrid and the shipping vessel is calling into the Port of Barcelona, consider using the shipping line to rail your containers to Madrid and avoid trucking by road inland from Barcelona. This is a quick way to use more eco-friendly options in the logistics sector.
When shipping further afield across continents, using sea freight with 20ft or 40ft containers should be prioritised, as it offers the greenest and a more cost-effective approach. But it should be planned with care. There are a number of shipping lines offering the same destinations but with different routings, rates, transhipment points and transit times. Choosing the right service could be the difference between lengthy delays or arriving on time – or close enough that the production schedule is affected. The key thing with sea freight is to always aim to find a service that goes direct. Avoid services that offer transhipping to other vessels along the routing – this is where delays can really happen. If a transit time is listed as 50 days and includes transhipping, the timeline could easily increase by 10-15 days or more. We recently compared rates and services for an exhibition in Paris that needed to go to Sydney. Normally, Le Havre would be the port of export. But after some research, Antwerp was a far better option with a direct service and approximately 30% less on ocean costs compared to Le Havre, even when factoring the land transport and customs fees. Also, always allow a buffer where possible. We encourage an extra 2 weeks on the published transit time for anything moving by sea freight.
We are now experiencing tighter lead times between exhibitions. The tighter the timeline, the less chance of using seafreight and the higher the shipping costs and environmental impact may become. Airfreight is a very reliable and fast service compared to other modes of transport, but it comes with a high premium and moreover, much higher carbon footprint. Initiating dialogue with logistics partners, as well as integrating lower impact solutions and allowing for buffers, early in the process of tour development, can really help design smoother, more cost effective and sustainable tours for future exhibitions.
The key role of Crate Fabrication
Building crates based on a new exhibition soon to tour is no easy feat. There are lots of things to consider – future venue access limitations, loadability, weight distribution, handling and adequate protection for the tour life. It goes without saying, investing in good quality museum standard crates is well worth the investment. And to consider crating options early enough in the tour design process can really help.
Crates, if well designed and produced, are a good way to maximise space. If they can stack 2 high into a seafreight and yet, be small enough to load to a PAX aircraft, this will help the budget with streamlined loads and lower air costs. Always remember to have crates that can be accessed by any direction with a forklift – 2-way access limits loadability. Also, reusable crates are being developed, with increasingly flexible systems. These should be considered where possible to optimise the overall project impact.
Choosing the Right Partner
Artefacts and objects, exhibitory and merchandise require very different expertise when it comes to shipping, handling and clearances. Art handlers are the go-to for artefacts but might not necessarily be the best option for shipping merchandise requiring test certificates, conformity reports or help to hallmark jewellery. Moving large items such as exhibitory needs a cost-effective approach, but attention to detail way above the usual general forwarder.
It is difficult to get away from the stressful element of touring logistics, so finding the right logistics partner for the right job, and integrating them as a partner early in the process of tour planning, is key. It could be the difference to securing the next venue within your budget or schedule, without compromising the production.