CONFERENCES and exhibitions are booming in Nelson Mandela Bay, with several conferencing venues booked up back-to-back until early next year. The new Boardwalk Convention Centre is doing particularly well, attracting national and international conferences and exhibitions.
Convention centre events planner Rachel Greensmith said the venue was designed in such a way that it could be used as both an exhibition area and a conference venue.
"Our exhibition area allows for structures of up to 5m high, which is ideal for expos and similar events. Our conference venue can seat 600 people and it is very user-friendly.
"We recently hosted the SA Veterinary Association as well as the Nuclear Industry Association of SA and will host the Eastern Cape legislature later in the month. Next year we will host Ironman, the Bridal Fair, two wine shows as well as the Outdoor Expo – which will be exhibited both indoors and outdoors,” Greensmith said.
Feather Market Centre director Keith Murcott said his venue’s convention centre was also versatile enough for conferences, conventions and exhibitions.
"We have lost some exhibitions to other venues but we still host big events. We host a lot of concerts for the organ society and the Eastern Cape Philharmonic Orchestra,” Murcott said.
A popular Port Elizabeth venue which caters for smaller conferences and training is Elizabeth Place in Newton Park. Manager Ilze Roth said although they specialised in conferences, several smaller exhibitions – for instance a Babysense and a solar expo – had also been hosted successfully.
"We are very busy and things really pick up towards the end of the year,” Roth said.
Linda Harwood, of Harwood Promotions, who has been in the business for 17 years, said exhibitions were booming in the Bay due to the unique two-way nature of this marketing opportunity.
"Exhibitions are also an affordable investment, especially in the price-sensitive Eastern Cape, and offer the opportunity for businesses to interact directly with their target market and receive feedback on their products and services.
"They can also enjoy the benefit of building a database of interested consumers,” Harwood said.
Finding venues suitable for exhibitions was a challenge in Port Elizabeth.
"Exhibitions ideally need to be held in an easily accessible single-level venue with close ablution and kitchen facilities and plenty of parking. It is clear from the booked-out venues in the city that conferences and exhibitions are doing exceptionally well in the city,” Harwood said.
The upcoming Herald Clover Kids and Baby Expo, to be held from September 27 to 29 at Moffett on Main Lifestyle Centre in Walmer, is in its fourth year and is likely to draw more than 6500 visitors. Catering for families and children as well as expectant parents and teachers, the expo has grown to promote products from toys to 4D baby ultrasound scans to the latest in education and nutrition products.
Tourism Minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk said at the SA Association for the Conference Industry’s convention, held at the Boardwalk earlier this year, that despite the economic downturn making the business-events market volatile, it still offered significant growth potential.
He said it was important to diversify in tough times. The business-events industry had been a large contributor in drawing the 10.2% international tourists who arrived in the country last year.