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July 27, 2015

Sub-Saharan Africa: Industry Fragmentation Could be Harmful

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Members of some of the foremost exhibition organisers in Southern Africa recently announced that they have decided to break away from the Exhibition and Event Association of Southern Africa (EXSA), to launch a new industry body – the Association of African Exhibition Organisers (AAXO). However, given local industry growth, increasing interest from international stakeholders, and a number of other influencing factors, Craig Newman, CEO of the Johannesburg Expo Centre, believes that the industry should be cautious and guard against fragmentation. 

UFI, SAACI and EXSA have traditionally been the three names that are inextricably linked to the exhibitions, conference and events industry. Each of these organisations has had their own vital part to play. 

As the association of the world's leading tradeshow organisers and fairground owners, as well as the major national and international exhibition associations, UFI fully represents, promotes and supports all its members.  

Similarly, SAACI has dedicated itself to promoting efficiency and professionalism in the industry since 1987. As the umbrella body of the Conference and Meetings Industry in Southern Africa, SAACI has branches representing specific industry sectors, such as Conferences and Events, Destination Marketing, Exhibitions, Services, Technical, Transport and Venues. Seem to be moving forward from strength to strength

The Exhibition and Event Association of Southern Africa (EXSA) aims to represent, serve and grow the exhibitions industry through promoting the unique benefits offered to all its members. 

“The role of these industry bodies and associations is to represent and support the best interests of the entire industry that brought them together,” says Newman. “However, internal fractions, member politics and dissatisfaction with EXSA’s delivery, have been cited as some of the main reasons as to why a number of exhibition organisers recently decided to resign from EXSA and form their own Organisers Association, AAXO.”

Newman says that while he understands that the decision to break away from EXSA has been an ongoing debate amongst some organisers, he still believes that there are many alternative options that may lead to a better result for the industry as a whole. 

He says that while some organisers feel EXSA is no longer serving their best interests, and that this new body will transform into greater benefits for organisers, this might not necessarily play out as well as expected. 

“I have some concerns around this decision,” says Newman. “As custodians of the industry, surely the members need to fix their associations themselves if they feel that they are not fulfilling their mandate. Change should and must come from within and members need to work together to fill in the cracks.” 

Newman adds that EXSA has come under fire for being too focused on internal issues and that it lacks dynamism. “While the organisation probably has not been operating at the level where it should be, I believe that what really lies at the heart of this issue is a lack of communication,” he says. 

“Has the association’s management been adequately briefed on member expectations? Have they been given a clear mandate and do they understand it? How has the board been structured and is it practical? Is there a proper reporting system? Have clear deliverables been put in place and is this being monitored, measured and managed? Perhaps these are the kinds of questions we should be asking,” says Newman. 

“The only way an association can deliver on its objectives is if its members clearly and appropriately communicate their expectations,” he says. “It is easy to stand on the side lines and point fingers but the solution is to get involved in order to bring about positive and constructive change. If there is blame on perceived non-delivery, we should look no further than ourselves.”  

For Newman, the apple rots from the inside out and circumstances can only be improved by a change of tactics. “I have always believed that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, and therefore I don’t believe that any sector, company or individual within this industry should see themselves as bigger than the industry,” says Newman. “Our industry strength has always been our unity and I don’t believe that this is the time for fragmentation, especially with the enthusiastic interest that we are attracting internationally,” he concluded. 

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