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    Confex trend is set to continue strong growth

    The confex – a combined conference and exhibition – is gaining traction in the events industry as a viable value-add for organisers, exhibitors, and delegates.
    “While the confex concept has been around for some time, in fact the first conference at Sandton Convention Centre was the National Conference on Racism in September 2000, which included an exhibition component,

    it certainly is becoming more commonly adopted by organisers in the global events arena,” says Mati Nyazema, Executive Director of Sandton Convention Centre, who adds that Sandton Convention Centre has always strived to accommodate this trend.

    Nigel Walker, MD of Compex, specialists in the confex arena and organisers of the first exhibition at the National Conference on Racism at SCC, agrees that the confex trend is definitely growing across the eventing board. “The trend is to transform conferences or exhibitions into events and experiences – to the benefit of all participants.”

    He says that for organisers, an exhibition component in a conference can contribute significantly to the conference income while adding an additional drawcard for the delegates. It also allows organisers a golden opportunity to give their sponsors the exposure that they deserve with their often significant investment in the event.

    For exhibitors, the biggest benefit is a targeted and captive audience. Says Walker, “Exhibitors can be very specific as to what they show on their stands, knowing that specialists in a very specific field will be attending. We’ve seen significant uptake by exhibitors at a great variety of conferences. For instance, in the medical field, conferences for the pharmaceutical industry, critical care, specialists, nurses, medical aids, and others, are all attracting a strong base of exhibitors at their conferences – and the exhibitors report significant levels of success at the conferences.”

    Delegates too, are content to spend time at the exhibition as they know that it will be relevant to their spheres of interest – and this is often a time for positive networking among the exhibitors and the delegates. Walker says that organisers need to make sure that conference delegates get enough time to visit the exhibition with tea and lunch breaks of a reasonable duration and that it is not difficult to access from the conference area.

    Lorraine Strydom and Michelle Bingham, Sales Managers in Exhibitions and Corporate respectively for Sandton Convention Centre, are noticing the confex trend at a large proportion of their events, even at internal corporate events. “An exhibition as part of a seminar or conference – even for staff and even just a small number of exhibitors – adds excitement to the event, contributes to the learning or training process, and brings in extra income, helping to cover the costs of the event for the company,” points out Bingham.

    Strydom notes that several big conferences that take place at Sandton Convention Centre every year are increasing their exhibition space year on year, based on the success of the events as the exhibition space is allocated according to demand for it. She believes that the trend will continue growing because of the tremendous value it adds for all stakeholders. In both Bingham and Strydom’s experience they have also picked up that conference delegates are “getting smarter” about attending events because of tightening budgets and that attending a conference and exhibition in one is a favoured choice, rather than one or the other.

    Strydom adds that the confex concept has also been moving steadily into the exhibition and trade fair arena for some years, and that seldom does one take place without a ‘free-to-attend’ seminar or workshop taking place as well. “But this has to be managed carefully,” she says, “as too much in the way of seminars could take visitors off the exhibition floor – which won’t work for the exhibitors who have invested heavily in their exhibition space.” This means that, more often than not, the seminars take place at certain times only, and on the exhibition floor.

    Nyazema says, “Driving footfall, increasing profitability, and adding value is the aim of every event held at Sandton Convention Centre – and the confex is proving to be an ideal platform for achieving this for organisers, exhibitors, delegates and visitors. Sandton Convention Centre will continue to strive to be at the forefront of new developments in this exciting concept.”




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