That Covid-19 has caused disruptions of untold proportions is not debatable. But the level of the effects of the pandemic varies from industry to industry.
The events industry has been one of the worst hit.Nothing is happening in the Africa construction expos and exhibition for instance, as restriction of movement continues to be in force.
And the consequences are dire.
In March this year, Argus media postponed its road conference slated for 9-10 March 2020 in South Africa due to the escalation of coronavirus infection.
The company said thus, “Due to the spread of Novel Coronavirus and new restrictions being imposed on travel and large-scale public gatherings in the region, Argus have concluded that we must postpone the Argus Africa Roads Conference.” No alternative date was given.
Another Africa construction expos and exhibitions heavyweight DMG events, recently announced that its biggest yearly-showcase, The Big 5, is now moved to 2021.
The event, which comprises five specialised shows, was scheduled to be held from November 23-26 this year. It will instead be held from September 12-15, 2021 at the Dubai World Trade Centre, ahead of the Dubai Expo 2020, dmg events said in a statement.
The company said that the decision to postpone the event came “after a thorough consultation with key stakeholders in the wake of the effect of the coronavirus pandemic”.
On their part Mining Indaba has given new dates for its event- Investing in African Mining Indaba. The event will now take place on 1-4 February 2021.
“The show will be held in accordance with latest health & safety and government guidance and will take place alongside our sister event Africa Oil Week,” the company says.
“We have taken the decision to postpone following a period of continuous engagement with our stakeholders and customers” says David Ashdown, MD of Clarion Events Africa, the organisers of DRC Mining Week for the last 16 years.
He admits that it was a tough decision, “due to the opportunity it presents for the industry to connect and drive vital business revenues, but it is the right decision in terms of Health & Safety.”
The new normal for Africa’s construction expos and exhibitions
But the pandemic could also present an opportunity for Africa construction expos and exhibitions to test the viability of virtual meetings.
For example, Digital DRC Mining Week that took place from 17-19 June 2020, gathered thousands of enthusiastic attendees indicating that virtual meeting could be the new normal.It is a move that has been replicated across many construction events. The Big 5 for instance, has announced that it has launched a new virtual platform dubbed Digital Festival Africa in the Middle East, African, and South Asia, to bring together thousands of construction professionals for two days of networking, learning, and business-making in Africa.
The meeting is set for July 21 and 22.
Mining Indaba on the other hand is advertising several dates for webinars this year. One webinar is slated for September while another one has been set for October this year.
Challenges of virtual meetings
But virtual construction expos and exhibitions can have limitations, says Andrew Griffiths a serial entrepreneur and author.
“I’m not saying we can’t use platforms like Skype or Zoom, I use them all the time. But I am saying that we should never completely stop having face-to-face meetings, especially in the early, formative stages of a relationship where you are getting to know each other,” he advises.
It is the sentiment that is shared by Cathy Breden, CEO at Center for Exhibition Industry Research.
“Trade shows are very sensory in nature,” she says. “You use all five senses to feel and experience them, whether that’s examining a new product or shaking someone’s hand to build a relationship.”
And not everybody is good in video conversations, notes Avi Reichental, founder of XponentialWorks, an advisory firm specializing in artificial intelligence and 3D printing.
“Some people are naturally better on video than others and some people might unintentionally talk over others when connected remotely, ” he adds.
But with no end in sight for the Covid-19 pandemic, coupled with irregular opening of countries, it seems like virtual meetings will likely stay with us much longer.
Africa construction expos and exhibitions are no exception.