Making space to showcase Africa’s culture and economic opportunity

December 4, 2017

Antony RC

Blogger: Antony Reeve-Crook, Director, ArciMedia Ltd As

If the 84th UFI Global Congress in Johannesburg last month made one thing clear about Africa’s appeal to global exhibition organisers, it’s that while appetites may be whetted; work needs to be done to make much of the continent accessible.


According to Carol Weaving, Chairperson of Association of African Exhibition Organisers (AAXO) and MD of Reed Exhibitions Africa, delegates were clearly investigating which African countries offered stability and room to grow their shows, the venues to house them and the industry sectors on which to focus.

“International organisers got a feel for the African market and environment, where relationships are key and things do not work the same as in the established economies many of them came from,” she told me after the event. “New market entrants need to understand the environment and have an appreciation for the local cultures, economies, markets and languages that make each country in Africa so unique.”


According to the World Bank, the continent’s largest economies Nigeria, South Africa, and Angola are seeing a rebound from the sharp slowdown of last year, but their recovery has been slow as a result of insufficient adjustment to lower commodity prices and policy uncertainty. In its Africa Competitiveness Report 2017: Addressing Africa’s Demographic Dividend, published together with the World Economic Forum and African Development Bank, fewer than one-quarter of the 450 million new jobs needed in Africa in the next 20 years will be created if current policies remain unchanged.

The report, which covers North Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa, claims further economic stagnation is likely “in the absence of improvements in the core conditions for competitiveness”.

Perhaps exhibitions and related business events, with their ability to foster competition, industrial growth and jobs can play their part. But to do this, organisers need some space to play.

I recall a conversation a few years back with Montgomery MD Damion Angus, who told me that Nigeria was at one time home to a 6,500sqm venue that he believed was the most expensive venue on the planet at the time. International-standard venue space comes at a premium on a continent where little of it exists, and whether it’s a matter of availability or price, international organisers face quite an obstacle to entry without the large venues to support them.

“While Africa may have a shortage of venues, it does have first-world facilities in certain areas,” Weaving said. “In addition, while scale may be difficult to achieve initially and returns are potentially low at the start of a new project, the market continues to mature and anyone can leverage the first mover advantage to truly cement their position in this dynamic and growing market.”


What is certain is that Africa has much to offer exhibition organisers, both to local economies and international guests and organisers. The key to success is to partner with industry bodies like AAXO and the convention bureaus that can assist them in gaining credibility in the market, training their staff and offering insights into the market place.


Dirk Elzinga on Opportunities in Africa

February 9, 2012

Posted by

Barry Siskind

Community Manager


UFI is organizing in cooperation with Manch Communications an Open Seminar and Expo Summit in South Africa on March 15-17. The opening speaker will be Dirk Elzinga, Chairperson of the Western Cape Branch and National Vice President of EXSA, the Exhibition Industry of South Africa. Until 2010 he was managing Director of the Cape Town International Convention Centre, and in that position he has had opportunities to interact with international players, many members of UFI, who have shown an increasing interest in Africa.


Barry: What are the key industries that show the biggest potential for exhibitions in South Africa?


Dirk: Africa is of course an interesting continent. Although economic growth figures are not comparable with the BRIC countries, South Africa is proud to be a member of that group now as well. In South Africa the economic growth last year was just above 3%, still very impressive if compared with the rest of the world.  Our continent, with more than one billion inhabitants, is increasingly recognized as potentially an interesting trade partner. In order for countries like China and India to sustain their growth, there is a need for many raw materials – of which many African countries are the suppliers.


International and South African show organizers recognize these trade movements. Important economic sectors that are already or soon could be served with trade fairs and conferences are mining, IT and telecommunication, energy, food, fishing and agriculture, and also tourism.


Barry: Are organizers better advised to go it alone or to work with local partners?


Dirk:  I think that in general when one starts doing business in a new market it is recommended to be supported by partners that are aware of the do’s and don’ts, the typical habits, the price and other sensitivities etc. Africa is for many international players a new territory. In many ways new players will be surprised with the level of sophistication of the exhibition industry. Countries like South Africa are absolutely on par with their best European or Asian colleagues, with excellent facilities and experienced suppliers. In other African countries one might however experience some surprises. To play on safe it is perhaps recommended to find some experienced local colleagues to jointly develop new events in this exciting continent.



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