Shopping is a major feature of the holiday seasons in Ethiopia, and in the capital, Addis Abeba, an early kicker of this trend has been exhibitions. Those organised at the city’s single centre designed for the purpose - the Addis Abeba Exhibition Centre - located at the heart of the city in Meskel square, have become a key landmark in heralding the approaching holidays. Organising one of these holiday events is become less and less inviting, with increased competition pushing up the price of the winning bids. On the contrary, both exhibitors and visitors are not so enthusiastic about the events of late. Fortune staff writer Samson Berhane chose to visit the New Year's Exhibition, currently being held at the Exhibition Centre, while trying to understand the vibe and dynamics surrounding the event.
Fitsum Temesgen, 25, the lead guitarist of the two-year-old Kehas Band, spared time to visit the New Year’s exhibition, which is being held at the Addis Abeba Exhibition Centre from August 19 to September 10,on Wednesday, August 2016.
Fitsum and his two friends make a not so lavish living from their performances at events and in nightclubs. The 4,000 Br a month average salary demands prudent spending, which convinced Fitsum to come and check out the exhibition, thinking that suppliers would table all sorts of discounts and promotional offers.
He was not so sure he got what he wanted, rather seeming slightly baffled when Fortune asked him of his take on the exhibition.
“Ten days from the holiday and 14 days after it opens, the place is so dull and not exciting,” said Fitsum, comparing it with his past holiday bazaar visits.
He said he has done all his holiday shopping here for the past four years, visiting 10 bazaars.
“This year’s exhibition was too slow for my taste,” Fitsum said. “I have been here for over an hour and have found nothing worth buying and no significant sale offers.”
Fitsum remembers he spent around 1,500Br to buy kitchen utensils and some toppings at the Easter holiday bazaar.
Despite the visitor finding the going slow, the pushes and pulls of getting a contract to organise such holiday exhibitions is getting tough, with ever increasing prices and competition.
The old guard of organising exhibitions, Century Promotion, is back on the scene for this New Year event, which spans throughout the 23,000sqm centre. They beat of competition from four other companies – Dum Promotion, Shadeam Media, Habesha Weekly and Eyoha – which offered 20 million Br, 17.8 million Br, 14.7 million Br and 13.6 million Br, respectively. Even after offering such huge amounts, the process of announcing the winner was not smooth – taking far longer than usual.
Dum, the company that offered the highest amount, backed out after reaching the final stage, stating that they faced difficulty engaging foreign exhibitors at short notice.
The Centre was served a civil court suit, which was already filed and later called off by Century.
“Since we didn’t start promoting the event at the right time, it affected our capacity to attract more visitors and participants to the Expo,” said Zewge Jemaneh, the general manager of Century. ”At the beginning of the exhibition, the number of visitors was around 3,500 a day; this has now escalated to 12,000 even under such conditions.”
Established in 1991, Century has organised over 25 international exhibitions through its brand “Addis Trade For Development”, in line with major Ethiopian holidays at the Addis Abeba Exhibition Centre. The number of participants at each event has been between 150–400 companies. On average, about 15,000 people visited each event a day.
Since April 1, 2016, Century have managed to win the hearts of 350 exhibitors for this round.
Close to three hundred local and over fifty foreign companies are taking part in the exhibition, the latter ones paying 85,000Br for a nine square metre space. This price is almost twice as high as the average paid by local companies for the same shopping space.
On the entertainment front, the organiser sealed a deal with eight bands that to play music each evening.
Having managed to gather all exhibitors and entertainers to the holiday week bazaar, Century increased the cover charge at the gate.
“I spent close to 350 Br today; 50Br for cover charge and the rest sitting around listening to music and enjoying some food and drinks,” Fitsum said.
Century has spent close to one million birr for the entertainment alone.
”The cost would have been even higher than a million birr, if it wasn’t for the sponsorship of ABC Trading, which paid for the sound system,” said Zewge.
In addition to ABC, Javi Juice has also sponsored the event. Meanwhile, St George Brewery, Heineken Brewery, HTC Mobile and Dallol Media were among the other partners supporting Century.
The eight bands on show each have three singers. Century are paying the bands 25,000Br for one stage performance, as per an agreement made through the bid process. Meanwhile, celebrities like Fikir Addis, Girma Tefera and Hailu Fereja earn four times that amount.
On Wednesday evening, the place was bright with lights and active with music blaring out.
Visitors and exhibitors were enjoying the evening, more into the entertainment after an active day of negotiating the price of their items.
A variety of products, from local handmade goods to imported quality items from Turkey, China and India, were visible.
The colourful flashy jewellery and clothes from crisis hit Syria too made it to the exhibition. Unfortunately, these products did not get much attention as before, with Rahel Kumsa, a seller for the company, chatting with a colleague, while the music played in the background.
The foreign-based company that Rahel represented at the exhibition has no outlet in the country. It has, however, been a participant at such bazaars for more than 15 years by way of market analysis and brand promotion.
“Business in general is way below our expectations,” said the agent. “Today we hit rock bottom of our daily sales record.”
Numbers since the beginning of this round so far indicate a six-fold decline in daily sales, reaching an average of 6000Br a day. This came as a huge disappointment for the business planners of the company, since they paid more than 40,000Br more to rent their plot.
A look at the price index of Century reveals that a nine sqm plot inside the main hall, which has more visitors than the other premises, costs 51,000 Br – six times higher than the first expo held at the same place 20 years ago. While exhibitors outside the hall paid between 38,000 and 46,000 Br for the same size space, based on their location.
In comparison to the last expo, held during the Easter Holiday, the overall price exhibited an average increase of 60pc across almost all the stands.
“Syrian companies were the top participants at the exhibitions,” said Zewege. “So far, we have close to 90 companies in our partners’ poo.l”
Walking fast and seeming eager to buy something, Abiy Mekonnen, 28, and Mahlet Yebeka, 27, are a couple hopeful of finding a particular product.
”We came here looking for a product I bought ar the Easter exhibition,” Mahlet said. “I haven’t been able to find the same product anywhere in the regular market since.”
That was the reason they seemed to not take time assessing the line-up of shops on the outside, usually the more visited spots, but headed straight for the corner.
“Many just walk by without looking at what we have to display, assuming that they will find the same exhibitors in the same place,” said an exhibitor outside of the hall.
More than 100 manufacturers and 250 retailers have participated in the current expo so far.
Besides the hectic environment inside and outside the premise and sheds, live entertainment is one of the things that has become very popular since the inception of the first exhibition two decades ago.
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