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    EXSA predicts further opportunities to CONNECT, ENGAGE, LEARN, GROW for 2017 and beyond, says Phumulani Hlatshwayo, EXSA General Manager.

    At EXSA, we have long realised that exhibitions and events are a serious engine to drive job creation and economic impact. As an industry body, we have a wide brief that is focused on sustainability and relevance. We are tasked with foreseeing potential challenges and developing solutions that will enable our members to proactively overcome these challenges. As business owners, our members in the form of suppliers, organisers, venues and associates are up to date on trends that fall within the look and feel at shows hence the below is an attempt at driving the trends conversation around the value of strategy in our space.

    Research and Reporting

    The overall importance and impact of our industry on the economy still needs to be well-documented. A stronger case still needs to be made for the need to track, measure and report on how we contribute and serve as a catalyst of economic development in a broader sense.

    For 2017, through strategic partnerships between industry and various stakeholders, research and more thought leadership will thrive. In order for our industry to grow and remain relevant, there is a need to dig deep and curate content that goes beyond the actual shows/events. There is a strong call for more visibility of management and decision makers in our industry. A thread can be established and documented where the evidence is provided as to how events and exhibitions help in generating jobs, tax revenues, sustaining of various sectors such as the travel industry, hotel and accommodation, activities and more. This will, in addition, help provide proof points that the coordinated efforts of exhibitions and events are better positioned to compete for new investments and build a more talented workforce.

    Unpacking Experience

    Buzzwords such as “experience” and “disruptive” continue to dominate trends conversations, however, a focused effort on practical application has not been fully developed. All industries that rely on attracting visitors or audience participation need to focus on end user experience, and one would rightfully think that this has been happening. As an association, this is exciting for us and will continue to engage in various conversations within our community in developing a robust definition around experience.

    Can experience be seen as new audience segmentation and targeted messaging? Or perhaps experience is probing the merits for the industry to introduce or NOT introduce every new innovation that is presented. As the saying goes: “why fix what’s not broken?” Does experience mean that we need to head into more advanced technology, and if so what kind of technology? Automated information hubs or pay points on site?

    In unpacking and seeking deeper knowledge definition we can segment and decide where innovation and experience is necessary and where it isn’t – this is about a better allocation of resourcing that is more suitable for each business. The new year presents us with the opportunity to tackle ongoing debates, more energised, and with a perspective from the previous year. We need to be honest with ourselves when it comes to what worked and what didn’t work for us as an industry.

    Out of the box collaboration

    In making a case for associations/industry bodies to thrive we need to always grow our member base. As a non-profit organisation, membership fees drive our existence. However, if the environment isn’t friendly to new business ventures it means our pool source stagnates and potential for new members is limited. This presents an opportunity for diversification of our industry. By this we mean, proactively targeting and tapping into the industry value chain. Are there others services that play a role within exhibitions and events that can add value to our member base? Are we as an association being open minded in our approach and acknowledging new industries? Are we fully embracing new (and existing) elements to eventing such as partnering with speaker bureaus, chef associations, non-traditional accommodation platforms and fleet management (such as Airbnb and Uber)?

    Most importantly, are we recognising economies within the underserved areas such as townships and rural areas? In our role as a responsible association, going off the beaten track and opening new markets is part of our growth strategy. Transformation? What does this mean for our industry?

    Aggressive stakeholder engagement (public and private organisations)

    The Exhibition industry leaders need to make legislators and regulators aware of the considerable impact of exhibitions, meetings and events on the economy. Education about the value of exhibitions must take centre stage. Potential challenges facing our industry should be seen as an opportunity for truly strategic discussions between the people who plan exhibitions and the senior executives of public and private organizations that sponsor them. Now, more than ever, the topic of exhibitions and events has great relevance in the eyes of powerful stakeholders. Exhibition industry professionals need to present a clear, comprehensive business case to key stakeholders about how to achieve strategic value.

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