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Globalization poses stiff challenge to Arab exhibition industry

Conference looks at ways to develop trade

For the first time in 80 years, the heads of leading European and Arab exhibition industries have been brought together at a strategic conference, with the participation of the Global Association of the Exhibition Industry (UFI)."

Recent fast-paced global economic developments are a great challenge for the Arab world," said Economy Minister Marwan Hamade during the 6th International Forum for Exhibition Industry at Beirut's Marriott Hotel on Tuesday. "The exhibition industry is one of the fundamental tools for developing international and intra-Arab trade."

Hamade said that the West, particularly Europe, has taken an Arab idea - the common market - and forged the European Common Market, while Arabs continue to struggle with unity issues."We must understand the extent of changes occurring in our region and the world at large, and shape our future accordingly," said Hisham Haddad, the secretary-general of the Arab Union of International Exhibitors. "We should not only dwell on our strengths but reinforce our weaknesses as well."

Statistics from the association of Exhibition Organizers (AEO) show that exhibitions are the best market channels for building relationships with customers and prospects, offering new products and demonstrating their benefits.

The same study shows that exhibitions in the Middle East continue to attract good audiences but with insufficient attention to quality and auditing.

A major shortcoming remains the limited use of the internet for promotion and pre-registration, with reputation as the prevailing success factor."The globalized world has no place for small players or lone nations," said Ahmed Gowali, the secretary-general of the Council of Arab Economic Unity. "We need to pool our resources so that we can confront the major international corporations and cartels from a position of strength."

Gowali said that the Arabs were the precursors of trade, and he called on all those concerned to regain the leading position they once held.

The development of Arab exhibition companies would greatly enhance the propagation of Arab goods and services, as well as introduce all the available investment venues in the Middle East and North Africa region."The key factor remains the exchange of knowledge for the benefit of all," said UFI President Ruud Van Ingen. "Good relations between all parties involved will ensure business activity proliferation."

UFI represents 256 member organizations, composed of 205 exhibition organizers/hall owners, and 51 associations and partners of the exhibition industry - all in 155 cities in 72 countries on the five continents. UFI members hold over 4,000 annual trade fairs and exhibitions; they rent 50 million square meters of exhibition space annually; they draw 1 million exhibitors to these events each year; and they draw 150 million visitors annually.

According to the AEO, the new challenges facing the exhibition industry are competition, industry consolidation, the number of customers/visitors, short-term commitments, no-shows, flat attendance and facility growth outpacing growth in events.

Beirut,07 05 2004
Ara Alain Azoumian
The Daily Star
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