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Is the Northern Trade Fair losing its relevance?

CHAKALISA DUBE
Business Botswana president Gobusamamng Keebine touring stalls after the official opening of the northern trade fair PIC: KEOAGILE BONANG
After yet another lukewarm Northern Trade Fair, Mmegi Staff Writer, CHAKALISA DUBE walks amongst the stalls to understand why the former crowd puller has lost its luster

FRANCISTOWN: Since the annual Business Botswana Northern Trade Fair (BBNTF) was launched in 1994, it has often been touted as one of the biggest events in the northern part of the country. But it appears its popularity has been waning in recent years.

One of the main purposes of the trade fair, which is the brainchild of Business Botswana, is to give an opportunity to private companies to market their products and services as well as to foster the growth of their ventures through interacting with each other.   

In recent years, various entertainment activities have been lined up during the course of the fair, but they have failed to charm businesses and spectators.

Over the years, businesses and spectators have been becoming less and less interested in exhibiting at the fair. They are shifting their attention to other marketing platforms and stakeholder outreach programmes.

Some stakeholders have even wondered if the trade fair is still important anymore.

This year, according to Business Botswana president Gobusamang Keebine nearly 80% of the exhibitors were government entities and parastatals.  Other exhibitors were mainly private tertiary institutions and a handful of small businesses. 

The trend where the private sector participates less at the fair has been ongoing for years, but became more amplified at this year’s event.

Here are some reasons why businesses might be shunning the trade fair; Interaction with various stakeholders at the fair suggests that its buzz has been waning thanks to the prevalence of factors such as social media which offers very interactive forms of marketing closer to trade fairs. The other plus is that marketing on social media and other digital platforms is much more cost effective than fairs.

As some stakeholders put it, the other most notable

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disadvantage to showing up at the fair is that spaces there are relatively expensive, but they have not been upgraded for many years.

Under the current economic circumstances it is inevitable that businesses consider participating at the trade fair unworthy. Perhaps, the above scenario justifies why parastatals and government entities continue to dominate the fair. Marketing complacency was also cited amongst the reasons Business Botswana has failed to retain spectators and exhibitors at its fair in recent years.

“Business Botswana should go beyond selling exhibiting stalls and aggressively market the show in a manner that would encourage many people to make the most of opportunities and experiences it offers.

The organisation is not really not doing well in that (marketing the event) regard. For years, they have relied on goodwill to attract exhibitors and spectators. They have been really sloppy in terms of marketing,” one exhibitor who declined to be named said, but has been at the fair for several years.

Even leading to the just ended fair, there were little activations or activities to market the fair.

In his address, Keebine also expressed worry about the low level of participation of exhibitors particularly the private sector at this year’s BBNTF. He also emphasised that the fair needs transformation in order to attract more exhibitors particularly from the private sector.

“My main aim is to make sure that BBNTF becomes what it was some years ago. I want to improve stakeholder engagement and bring back members who have been walking away from Business Botswana and the trade fair. If many private companies can constantly attend the fair in large numbers that is when we can say we have made it as Business Botswana,” Keebine said.



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