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August 4, 2015

Sub-Saharan Africa: The Lowdown on Budget, Labour and Logistics at Conferences and Exhibitions

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Often when we think of conferences and expos, we get excited about the inspiring speakers, the jam-packed programme, networking and even marketing. But all these aspects hinge on getting three main components right: labour, logistics, and budgeting. The latter actually defines how well the former two are executed and is inextricably linked to how innovative and effective a conference or exhibition is. 

“Planning and budgeting accurately around any event irrespective of size, has a huge impact on both an organiser’s ability to resource sufficiently, and deliver to the clients expectations,” says Zaida Enver, CEO at Pure Grit Project and Exhibition Management. “Operating within a challenging global economy, budgets have shrunk and clients are always expecting even more of a return on their investment.”

Adriaan Liebetrau, CEO of the Southern African Association for the Conference Industry (SAACI) shares her sentiments, saying that budget will always be an issue, and have definitely shrunk in recent years. “Organisers can all tell you that clients expect same or more for the limited funds they have. Innovation is needed – out with the old way of doing it. Just because we did it like this before doesn’t mean it needs to be done the same and break the bank,” he explains.

Of course, just because budgets have grown smaller, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, says Robyn D’Alessandro, National Marketing Manager at Gearhouse SA, a leading technical supplier to the live events industry. “It requires a bit more of an innovative approach to pull it off without compromising standards,” she continues, “I don’t think it is something that is confined to Southern Africa, though…it seems to be a global trend. Gearhouse runs its own fleet of vehicles which helps keep logistical costs to a minimum and keeps us on a strict schedule.”

Despite cuts affecting labour and logistics, most industry experts believe that the sector is in a healthy place. Efforts to increase business events in South Africa are paying off, and a demand for events on the wider continent is also becoming more apparent. “South African service providers are excelling at creating a more interactive experience for our clients particularly on the ICT solution side of things, which is evolving rapidly,” D’Alessandro explains, “The challenges are, as always, keeping up with the latest technology and trends whilst remaining competitive in the market and maintaining an international standard.”

Says Enver: “I think that the industry is a healthy one provided that both conferences and exhibitions continue to remain niche and relevant.” She goes on to say that although the downturn in the economy and ever-depleting marketing budgets are issues that affect decisions to exhibit or partake in conferences, we are doing well in other parts of the process. “The area we are beginning to excel in is the area of greening and environmental conscious surrounding events.” 

Liebetrau has some sobering advice, however. “We must also be mindful that in the past twelve months we have faced more challenges than ever before. E-tolls, Ebola, xenophobia, loadshedding, increased taxes, cost-cutting practices for government and corporates, and the latest the visa challenges…Companies need to get out of the crises mode and start moving into adopting an adaptive approach or face the dangers.”

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