‘Lagos Trade Fair Will Be More Successful This Year’

Following the increase in the number of prospective exhibitors and visitors, who have shown interest in the forthcoming 2013 Lagos International Trade Fair, the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI), organisers of the fair, have said that this year’s edition is expected to record greater success than the previous years.

In an exclusive interview, Dele Alimi, the Director of LCCI, in charge of Membership & Trade Promotion, told FinIntell that preparations are in top gear to ensure a hitch-free event which will mark the 27th consecutive years of organising the fair.

How will you rate the performance of last year’s trade fair?
The 2012 edition of the trade fair was a successful one. It was successful in the sense that the Chamber was able to surmount the challenges it had at the new venue. The venue had not been used for such event, for about 10 years. The Chamber was also able to allay the fears of exhibitors and visitors about the stability of the Tafawa Balewa Square (TBS) for a trade fair of such magnitude. People were scared about the availability of space, traffic, the menace of area-boys and security, in general. So, the Chamber had to work really hard than we usually do because of all these challenges. More than anything else, we worked harder to convince people to come for the exhibition. Then, we worked harder in providing a conducive environment for business, within the 10-day period of the fair.

Also, since the TBS was not a traditional place built, purposely, for a trade fair, we had the challenge of providing indoor exhibition halls. We had to go for other alternatives –called marquee tents, which also presented its challenges. We found out that the capacities of such service providers, in the country, that have the kind of tents that we need available were limited. We wanted big marquee tents that also provide auxiliary services on alternative source of power, air conditioner, security and toilet facility. We only saw service providers that are use to supplying organisers of one or two-day events, with an entire event period of about eight hours. But we are talking about an event, where people will spend about 12 hours daily, for 10 days; with constant high volume of people, coming in and going out of the venue, throughout the duration of the event.

So, we had to ensure the air-conditioners and generators worked for 12 hours, over a 10-day period. This really tasked the facilities of the service providers. Last year, we had four marquee tents. We had issues with some of them, in terms of the cooling system and electricity. However, one way or the other, with the ingenuity of the LCCI and the other members of the trade promotion that organised the trade fair, we were able to surmount those challenges. Although, the fair was void of some permanent structures such as exhibition halls, but in all, we had a successful fair.

We also had a lot of public sector participation from both States and Federal Government, ranging from ministries, departments and parastatals. So, in general, it was a successful trade fair. There wasn’t any report of breakdown in security. Even despite the challenges the country was facing, we had a smooth event.

What plans are you putting in place to ensure this year’s trade fair records greater success?
This year, we have noted all the problems encountered last year and, I can say, we have done something about them.

Customarily, we have provided for security. We are working with the Nigeria Police Force, including their anti-bomb and anti-riot squads. We are also working with the military.

We have also leant from the natural challenges we had last year. There was heavy rainfall last year. The rains fell for four days, which was very unprecedented for the month of November. It was something we were not prepared for. Usually, we sometimes experience a day or, at most, two days rainfall during the trade fair. Then, we used to have a permanent hall. But last year we used tent. We even had issue with one of the tents which had water dripping in and got the rug soaked. That is one of the lessons we learnt.

This year, it is obvious we cannot use the normal floor for the event, which is about two inches high. We are going for the floor of 6 inches high. So, no matter the amount of rainfall, water will be under the tent. These are lessons we learnt from last year’s experience and we are already working towards them.

We also found out, last year, that the drains on the field had been blocked over the years. Incidentally, there was no rain when we were preparing to warn us against any burden. Now, we are working with the owners of the venue to make sure that the drains flow clearly, as well as ensure that they can take water away from the field. Work is already ongoing. Anytime it rains now, I go to the venue to see the situation on ground. Close monitoring is necessary because if we don’t start the inspection now, it will be difficult to inspect the field when we start building structures.

Also, before now, we use to do concession and franchise in the sales of ticket. However, because of some issues we’ve been having over the years, we are going in a different direction this year. We are going to have partners who will come in with ticketing and access control experience. We are not going to put anybody or company under franchise pressure again. We are also doing this for the security of every participant. Our plan is to ensure that in three seconds, a visitor is processed. We want people to just come in, put their tickets on the scanners, get scanned and go in. We wouldn’t be selling tickets at the gates again. The gates are simply there for normal crowd control.

Is the Tafawa Balewa Square (TBS) a better venue for trade fair than the traditional trade fair complex ground, located along Lagos-Badagry expressway?
To be candid, some of the exhibitors still prefer the TBS to the main trade fair complex along Lagos Badagry expressway. But as the organisers, we have done our own investigation. The current road situation in Badagry is terrible and construction is still going on there. The traffic situation is also bad, particularly, during peak periods. So, a trade fair of our own magnitude, that is expected to witness nothing less that 20,000 to 30,000 people, on a daily basis, cannot hold there for now.

Also, due to the construction that is going on, the Federal Roads Maintenance Agency (FERMA), which usually comes to our aid to carry out some minor repairs whenever we are getting close to the trade fair, cannot render any help because such effort will amount to waste of money, since construction is already going on there. Last year, the construction was mainly around Mile 2 and its axis. This year, the construction has, even, moved further towards the trade fair complex, which makes it worse for traffic. That is the major reason why we are not going back to the main trade fair complex. I can simply tell you that, until that road is completed or an alternative route is created, we cannot go back.

The truth is that, it is more convenient for the LCCI to use the Lagos-Badagry expressway trade fair complex because the structures are already there. The place was purposely built for trade fair. We are only adapting at the TBS. It is more expensive and more challenging to organise the fair at TBS than at traditional trade fair complex. That is what I want exhibitors to know.

For the convenience of the exhibitors and visitors, and even for the image of the country –since foreign exhibitors are coming, we cannot hold a trade fair of that magnitude at the Lagos-Badagry expressway complex for now.

How factual is it to state, according to the LCCI, that the Lagos International Trade Fair is the biggest and the best organised trade fair in West Africa?
When I became the Director of Trade Promotion in 2010, I may not have been able to answer that question. Then, I actually thought the claim was a slogan. But between 2010 and now, I have visited exhibitions in some West African countries such as Ghana, Senegal, Gambia and Côte d’Ivoire, and I can basically tell you, without an iota of doubt, that the Lagos International Trade Fair is the biggest and the best organised trade fair in West Africa. And I am ready to defend this anywhere.

Perhaps, the next trade fair that is close to ours may be the Ghana International Trade Fair. I have been there and I have seen the volume of business showcased there. They are not comparable to what we have in Nigeria, for obvious reasons. In terms of visitors and business exhibitions that can happen within the trade fair arena, the Lagos International Trade Fair is the biggest and the best.

We said we are the biggest and the best in West Africa because we want to be modest. Even when you go to some of these exhibitions in other parts of Africa, you will find out that countries like South Africa are more into specialised exhibitions and they don’t attract the kind of business visitors that we attract in Lagos, Nigeria.

Last year, we had about 23,000 square meters of space that was used for about 1,400 exhibitors. The volume of business, from our own calculation, was into hundreds of millions of dollars. On the conservative side, we say hundreds of millions of dollars because, unfortunately, we are in a country where people hide statistic. People around here believe that when you have a success story, you should not tell others. It is quite unfortunate. This is one of the reasons why we don’t have good statistics in Nigeria. But we will continue to work on this.

Every year, we work on our questionnaires to make sure trade fair participants tell us the true situation of things. We do this to see how we can measure the after-sales performance of the fair. We are organisations that will not make one sale during the fair but will make more sales after the fair.

How much influence has the security situation in some parts of the country impacted on the influx of foreign participation?
Incidentally, while people express fear about the security situation in the country, we found out that we have received more patronage, in terms of foreign exhibitors. I think this is obvious even from the statistics of the Foreign Direct Investments in the country, in the last few years till date.

Despite these challenges, people still find the Nigerian economy quite attractive for investment. And I think this has also rubbed off on the Lagos International Trade Fair. Every year, we have had increase in the number of foreign exhibitors, especially from Asia –India, Taiwan, Japan, China, Singapore, Indonesia and Pakistan. We also have some from Europe and America, who came in to observe. But when you look at the number of exhibitors that come in, year-in-year-out, you will know that Nigeria is an investment destination in Africa. In 2012, we had over 130 companies from China under one pavilion. The same is going to happen again this year. We have been receiving a lot of requests for exhibition and also for visitation.

Be that as it may, it is important to note that the security situation in the country has increased our own expenditure, in terms of providing measure that will make sure that we don’t have any security breach. But then, we have to do what has to be done to make sure that we give people confidence in our ability to ensure safety of life and property.

Apart from foreign participants, we encourage local participation more. We are encouraging State Government to come, basically to serve as a forum for them to be able to attract investors to their States. Within the trade exhibitors too, a lot of businesses also go on.

Last year, we had seven States and we are hoping that, this year, we should have, nothing less than, 10 States of the Federation and other Government parastatals. Sometimes, those Government parastatals use the trade fair as a public enlightenment campaign venue. The Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) did that last year to educate people about the GMS mobile portability. I can actually say that we have succeeded in opening up the Nigerian market more for public-private partnership, within our own 10-day event.