Christmas is around the corner and to mark the beginning of the holidays the Exhibition Centre hosted its annual Christmas Expo. Alas, unlike previous years it received a cold opening. It was unable to excite visitors and emptied the Exhibitor's pockets. Retailers complained of high rental fees while visitors lamented the high prices of products. What should have been an exciting shopping experience ended in disappointment for many, writes YIBELTAL GEBREGZHIABHER, FORTUNE STAFF WRITER.
Ramadan Kedir, a businessman and regular participant in holiday exhibitions, registered in this year’s Christmas Exhibition with excitement. In the previous rounds, he put plastic products up for sale. This year though, he brings new products with him.
Ramadan participated in this year’s 21-day long exhibition, held at the Exhibition Centre, opened on December 16, 2017, representing his family business, Rainbow Confectionary Plc. His products included chocolate, candies and chewing gum to satisfy the sweet tooth of visitors and potential buyers.
A nine square metre booth in the open space of the centre set Remedan back 85,000 Br. Nonetheless, he was hopeful that the profits would cover his expenses including the rent.
Unfortunately, the number of visitors to stop by his stall was much lower compared to previous exhibits.
“The customer flow has been decreasing year by year,” said Ramadan one of the 350 participants of this year’s exhibition offering products ranging from consumer to household items.
He attributes the decline to passive promotions by the organiser. Century Promotions, a veteran holiday exhibition organiser having hosted over 26 events along with this one, has paid over 33 million Br to coordinate this year’s Christmas and Easter holiday exhibition.
“Even on weekends, when one would expect many visitors, the exhibition remained dormant,” Ramadan laments.
But for Yetnayet Tamiru, the marketing agent of Century, Ramadan’s claim does not hold water.
Though the exhibit is well known for being packed with visitors, there were some empty booths inside and outside the pavilions.
“We are working with almost all media outlets with six spots in each station,” she said. ” There are times when our advertisement runs within an hour’s interval.”
The other headache of the exhibitors is the hike in booth rental price.
Last year, Ramadan paid 65,000 Br for a similar stall, 20,000 Br lower than this year.
This has discouraged many exhibitors from taking part in the exhibition, according to the participants. Though the exhibit is well known for being packed with visitors, there were some empty booths inside and outside the pavilions.
Usually, the hustle and bustle reaches its peak after 5:30pm when employees flock to the centre after working hours. But unlike the previous days, December 25, 2017- the 10th day of the exhibition- was very quiet and calm.
“We made price adjustments on retails to balance the price we paid for the spots,” Yetnayet said.
The rent paid to the Addis Abeba Exhibition Centre and Market Development Enterprise (AAECMDE) of the Addis Abeba Chamber of Commerce & Sectoral Associations has been skyrocketing over the past five years.
The centre which lies on 23,000sqm has three pavilions. The first hall can hold 90 minimum sized booths, the second and the third can hold 48 booths each. The open space accommodates up to 140 stalls.
Candies and chocolates that Ramadan Kadir has stalked at his stall for sale at the Christmas Expo.
For the 2012/13 Christmas and Easter exhibitions, Century had won the bid with a combined sum of seven million Birr. But, this amount has spiked to over 33 million Br, a fourfold increase, in the current expo.
The amount offered to rent the sole public centre has gone up as a result of competition among organisers, according to Abraham Seyoum, lecturer of Economics at Addis Abeba University (AAU).
“But this can’t continue for long as time would come when companies won’t be able to cover their expenses including the rent,” said Abraham. “Even exhibitors may not be willing to rent stalls as a result of swell in rental fees.”
Exhibitors share Abraham’s view.
“It will be very difficult to continue in this situation,” claims Tsion Assefa, 34, who has attended the holiday exhibition six times. She retails beverages imported from Europe.
“Everything is ready. But, no one came to buy our product,” she complains.
The problem lies not only with the organisers but also the exhibitors who have failed to bring new products to attract frequent visitors like that of Netsanet Ale, 27, who works at the Commercial Bank of Ethiopia (CBE).
She was at the centre to buy kitchenware and some household items. But ended up disappointed as she could not get any product to suit her choice.
“The only thing that has changed for this holiday is the entrance fee, which has doubled and reached 30 Br,” she claims.
Five years ago when Century paid four times less than this year’s offer, it charged the visitors 10 Br, but the entrance fee has tripled now.
Most of the products are not even customer oriented supplies, according to Antonio Mahalay, an Italian visitor who observes many window shoppers who just stop by, ask for prices but leave without making the purchase.
“During such holidays people seek consumer products with lower prices, but what is offered are imported products with higher prices,” Mahalay told Fortune.
Another non-national participant of the exhibition who shares Mahalay’s view was Paul Lyobai. He was an interpreter for juicer retailers from South Korea.
“Rather than buying our products the visitors are attracted to the entertainment that costs them less,” Lyobai said.
Most of the exhibitors blame the high rental prices for such cold response.
But Tamrat Admassu, general manager of the Exhibition Centre, insists the rental fee for the centre is market driven, and the organisers made the offer considering their benefits from the business.
“If the price is higher we will be advantageous; therefore, we always choose companies which give the highest offer,” Tamrat said.
With a decline in visitors and exhibitors alike, some potential buyers like that of Netsanet left the exhibition dismayed at the 30 Br fee and the time wasted to visit the exhibit.
As a result, she left with bare hands, deciding to buy the kitchenware and the household items she wants elsewhere for this Christmas holiday.
Abraham, the expert, suggests organisers think over the inflated price offered to rent the centre and organise the exhibitions. If not, according to him, both the visitors and exhibitors will gradually fade away.
Fitsum Eyob, one of the participants, shows his goods to his customers.