Analysis: BENEDICT TEMBO
THE Zambia International Trade Fair management is yet to announce the attendance of the 2019 edition.
But the Trade Fair, which ended in Ndola yesterday, was probably the worst attended in recent times.
There were a lot of empty stands and booths – pointing to a low turn-out.
Fewer firms turned up to exhibit their products compared to last year – not a good sign for a country aspiring for economic diversification.
For a long time, the Trade Fair has been the must-go event for almost every corporate and business person because of having been the one-stop trade centre followed by the Zambia Agricultural and Commercial Show in Lusaka.
However, the monopoly the ZITF and ZACS have enjoyed is slowly coming to an end – thanks to the recently introduced regional trade expos.
A few events and policy decisions clearly affected traffic to the Trade Fair grounds this year.
The rickety Trade Fair grounds may also be in need of a major refurbishment so as to not only attract visitors but the money exhibitors pay must be worth it.
Government’s decision to implement austerity measures, which meant most ministries and departments cutting down on their budgets contributed to the low turnout.
Then ZITF has faced competition from the Copperbelt Investment Expo, which took place from June 24 to 28 in Ndola.
Much as the Copperbelt administration was looking at means of broadening the region’s economy through diversified investments, it affected attendance of the Trade Fair.
Before the expo was the Copperbelt Mining, Industrial and Agricultural Trade Expo (Caminex) in Kitwe held from June 4 to 6.
The Caminex, Expo and the ZITF were fishing from the same pond as far as patronage was concerned.
Maybe, the expo and ZITF should have been combined.
In this case, the expo was seemingly ill-timed as it clashed with the ZITF rather than complementing it.
In this case, the expo cannabalised the ZITF.
Caminex is by far the most expensive, especially that some booths are managed by companies from South Africa.
A little stand costs no less than K20,000. Trade Fair is in the range of K40,000 for stand alones but they have cheaper options in the halls and out spaces.
The expo had K6,000, K9,000 and K30,000. So because no renovations were involved and the location was better, some organisations went for the expo.
Besides, it is a fact that some organisations opted to exhibit at the expo because it cheaper in terms of participation fee and no stand rehabilitation works were involved.
Going forward, the expo and ZITF should consider holding just one event in the trade fair grounds with special booths for organisations that specialise in facilitating investing and also tailoring the business seminars to investment.
And expo organisers accepted even companies and institutions that had nothing to do with investment, including mere traders.
That said, if the expo achieved its objectives, then there is no loss. The Trade Fair will be there even next year.
Meantime, there are three expos lined up starting next month.
The North-Western expo is billed for August 18 to 24 and will be held under the label “Unveiling the Hidden Treasures.”
Coming on the heels of the North-Western expo will be the Eastern Province Expo holding from Tuesday, August 27 to Friday, August 30 in Chipata.
The Southern Province investment expo will follow from September 14 to September 21.
Regional expos have become the in-thing since the Luapula Expo which was held in 2017.
A year later, the Central Province followed suit with an investment forum and expo in October, 2018.
Not to be outdone, the Northern Province also staged the tourism and investment expo in November, which included the familiarisation tours of identified areas such as Kasaba Bay, Lumangwe Waterfalls, Kabwelume waterfalls, Kalambo waterfalls, Chishimba waterfalls, Lakes Chila and Tanganyika as well as Mpulungu Harbour.
With so many expos being held back to back, it will not be surprising that corporates and individual business people may suffer a burn-out.
By now, some companies including Government are now counting the cost of participating in so many expos given the competing needs.
There may be need for a re-think by some regions deferring their expos so that companies and Government ministries/departments can recover from expenditure incurred so far.
After all, they are not in competition but merely complementing.
The author is a Zambia Daily Mail editorials editor.
Analysis: BENEDICT TEMBO