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Exhibition News July 2014
July 2014


Guest expert: Agenda setting: AEO CEO Karim Halwagi

Karim Halwagi blog


In his first column as chief of the AEO, Karim Halwagi sets the agenda for 2012 and notes the challenges and opportunities for our industry in this Olympic year.

So here it is: 2012, a mixture of good news and bad.

On the plus side, the Olympics are here. England is in the spotlight for organising arguably the greatest show on Earth. On the downside, the economic outlook for England, Europe and most of the world is dire.

Taking on the role of CEO at the AEO was always going to be a challenge and the forecast for this year would not seem to make it any easier. However, I am filled with pride in our industry.

During my career I have always been impressed by the resilience of the exhibition industry and this has never been more apparent than in this tough climate. Despite the forecasts of doom and gloom, there is a sense of optimism and real purpose across AEO members.

If there has been a downturn in exhibition business, it has not been as steep as in other industries. More and more feedback is showing face-to-face marketing rising to the top of the agenda for many marketers as ‘engagement’ with new and existing customers becomes increasingly important.

So what is in store for the AEO in 2012? With the aforementioned attitude of members, the issue of venue stock continues to be crucial and as such I am looking to continue and expand efforts to not only maintain the existing space available, but to campaign for more venues to be developed across the country.

Further to that, we will persist in our quest for greater recognition of our economic contribution from government. As organisers, we must be consulted to ensure that as an industry and a country, we continue to deliver exceptional levels of expertise in this field, developing exhibitions and events that will in turn attract even greater levels of business tourism to the UK.

We also will look to develop greater links abroad, to build bridges to new and exciting markets in order to encourage further growth of member companies globally. To use the 2011 keyword ‘geocloning’, it has never been more important to open up avenues for new business growth globally. The UK has resolutely shown itself to be the greatest exporter of exhibition and event expertise internationally and with economies changing and developing, we will endeavour to open up channels of communication. Our role at the AEO is to provide networking platforms for members to gain insights and develop relationships with key figures in the indigenous industry.

Finally, we are developing initiatives to assist and encourage smaller exhibition and event organisers to progress and cultivate their shows. We want to encourage organisers who may feel that they do not warrant membership at this stage of business development to come and be part of our growing community and take advantage of the wealth of knowledge existing within our membership. This will provide them with insight and advice to grow their businesses and eventually sit around the proverbial table as leaders of the future.

When I now look at the year ahead, I greet it with pride and enthusiasm. The resilience of the industry is both a source of pride and great tragedy; it is a shame we have to be so resilient in the face of poor support from our government.

But with true grit, our industry rises to these challenges on a regular basis and delivers. Roll on the Olympics!

– Karim Halwagi is the CEO of the Association of Event Organisers (AEO). This was first published in the February edition of EN.