IATF 2021’s double quick staging in Durban illustrates Africa’s trading show must go on

EW hears from Chardonnay Marchesi, director of the business and technology portfolio at Reed Exhibitions, how organisers staged the second Intra Africa Trade Fair, 15-21 November, at short notice in Durban, South Africa:

Preceding the emergence of the Omicron wave that has since swept across most of the world, the South African city of Durban was fortunately able to host the second Intra Africa Trade Fair (IATF 2021), 15-21 November, at the Durban International Convention Centre (ICC). Throughout the week, over 11,850 participants from 128 countries physically attended the event, with an additional 27,000 joining virtually.

The IATF is a bi-annual trade show initiative organised by Reed Exhibitions (RX) on behalf of the owners, Afreximbank and the African Union. The show provides a platform for trade, investment and market research throughout the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCTA). IATF 2021 saw 1,161 exhibitors, including 838 companies showcasing their goods and services to buyers across the global market.   

Kanayo Awani, managing director of Afreximbank’s Intra African Trade Initiative, reported that sales had amounted to US$42.1bn, exceeding the $32bn mark set at IATF 2018.

Chardonnay Marchesi told EW that: “Off the back of the AfCFTA (established 2018) this event edition was a perfect opportunity to reignite Intra Africa Trade.”  Marchesi said a highlight was to seize the opportunity to bring several key stakeholders from all over the globe together, “allowing the African exhibition industry to restart.”

When asked about the challenges posed by the ever-changing Covid-19 pandemic, Marchesi said: “Covid-19 brought about a lot of uncertainty and even more scenario planning. The proverbial goal posts kept changing due to lockdown restrictions.”

She added: “Guided by Covid-19 health protocols, various systems were put in place to help stop the spread of the virus. These included reducing the number of people allowed in the halls and conducting daily Covid screening on all attendees before entry. This added another layer to the planning and execution of this already multi-layered event.”

The trade show had been originally scheduled to take place in Kigali, Rwanda, but owing to Covid-19 logistical constraints the event was moved to Durban only three months prior to the start.

Marchesi commented: “The decision to change host country three months before the opening day also proved challenging. During those 12 weeks the RX team had to reimagine the event, and this was taken in their stride.”

Despite the short notice, changed location and the increasing levels of Covid-19 throughout South Africa, RX Africa was able to run a show.

Marchesi concluded: “With seven heads of state (from South Africa, Nigeria, Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Zanzibar and Rwanda) in attendance, visitor attendance surpassing expectations and the number of countries represented, it meant a lively exhibition floor – something that has been missing as a result of Covid. IATF reinforced why events of this nature are vital to reignite business.”

As the world attempts to move from a pandemic to an endemic, the exhibition industry must take strength from events such as IATF 2021, which provide valuable examples of good practice in how to construct international exhibitions during times of continued uncertainty.

The IATF has announced that Abidjan, Ivory Coast, is to be the next host of the IATF in 2023.


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