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Exhibitors praise virtues, question costs of trade fairs

Slovakia will stage 176 trade shows and exhibitions in 1999, which makes next year's exhibition calendar one of the busiest in the nation's history. Both world famous companies such as Mercedes-Benz and smaller local firms agree that trade fairs are an excellent way to meet possible future clients.
"We get to meet the customers, to tell them what is new with our cars and get feedback on new lines," said Mercedes-Benz Bratislava director Július Šabo. "It is a satisfying and stress-free atmosphere. It is fun to talk to people who come to auto shows because they are car fans. The exhibitions may not be a very effective way to sell cars and they may be very expensive, but they offer an excellent opportunity to present our products, and they are fun."


Bratislava fair organiser and stager Incheba may increase exhibitor prices 10% next year.
Courtesy of Incheba

Slovakia will stage 176 trade shows and exhibitions in 1999, which makes next year's exhibition calendar one of the busiest in the nation's history. Both world famous companies such as Mercedes-Benz and smaller local firms agree that trade fairs are an excellent way to meet possible future clients.

"We get to meet the customers, to tell them what is new with our cars and get feedback on new lines," said Mercedes-Benz Bratislava director Július Šabo. "It is a satisfying and stress-free atmosphere. It is fun to talk to people who come to auto shows because they are car fans. The exhibitions may not be a very effective way to sell cars and they may be very expensive, but they offer an excellent opportunity to present our products, and they are fun."

Andrea Gregor, director of real estate agency Vadis Tour, agreed. As preparations continued for Vadis Tour's first trade show appearance at the Slovakiatour exhibition of travel agencies in January, she remained optimistic about an increase in business. "It will definitely increase sales. We expect to sign contracts with 50-100 clients. We must participate because we are a new company and we want to let people know about us. We want to make a name for ourselves and this is the perfect chance."

Despite the praise, however, exhibitors said the high cost of attending fairs and doubts about the effectiveness of the shows are forcing them to think twice about participating.

"It is really quite expensive," said Šabo. "During the exhibitions, we do sell some cars, but the costs are far higher than the profits. There is a big difference, you cannot compare the two."

Mercedes-Benz participates in two 'Autosalon' automotive trade shows each year, one in Bratislava at Incheba fair grounds and one in Nitra. The German car company rents a total of 1,000 square meters for the shows and, at Incheba, must pay 800 crowns per square meter. According to Šabo, each show costs the company 800,000 Sk ($22,000) to attend, a figure confirmed by Viera Janatová, director of fairs and exhibitions at Incheba,.

Šabo also took issue with the frequency of the auto shows. "We don't need two shows a year. Slovakia only has 5 million citizens, and it would be better if there were only one show every two years. In Paris and Frankfurt, for example, they only have one show every two years and those cities, Frankfurt in particular, have much larger markets than we have in Slovakia."

Pavol Dargaj, director of foreign trade fairs at Incheba, agreed that a country as small as Slovakia should have fewer trade shows. "Right now in Slovakia there are around 200 trade shows per year, which is too much. Maybe the number will fall to 150 per year, but I cannot say for sure."

Dušan Kováč, director of fair organiser BB Expo, said in an interview for Strategie magazine that the number of trade fairs had peaked at 250 in 1996, and was currently on its way down to around 150, where it would "crystallize into events with an international character, a regional character and events with a small local function."

But trade fairs will have to do more than crystallize if they are to continue to attract exhibitors. Šabo listed other drawbacks. "People cannot test-drive, they cannot sit in the cars, they are provided with very limited access, and the space is very expensive for us. If I could change one thing about the fairs, I would say that they should offer more space for less money."

Vadis Tour is also dissatisfied with Incheba's facilities. "I was very surprised at the lack of proper equipment," Gregor said."We requested a meeting room for breakfasts, meetings and presentations but they did not have the proper equipment. They only had a television and a VCR. We want to give a video presentation of our product, but with the equipment they offered, how can we give a presentation to 100 people? Without a projector, we cannot even give a presentation to 30 people. It is very expensive, and if we pay high prices, they should provide quality services."

Incheba's Janatova said that Vadis Tour would pay 37,800Sk ($1,050) for their reserved 18 square meters. She conceded that her company lacked a projector, but said that "this is not a problem - we can arrange to have a projector sent in on request."

Alexander Škurla, marketing director at Incheba, said that Incheba should not take all the blame for problems at its trade fairs. "The exhibition must be well prepared for by both parties. We have room to improve, but so do [our exhibitors]. Some of these firms have financial problems resulting from bad management. Some of these firms are run in a primitive way. As a result, they often do not decide to participate until the last moment. It is difficult to organise an exhibition in this environment. Some of the companies are very professional but many are not."

Janatová said that "there is no possibility" that Incheba would lower prices, adding that on the contrary, the cost of exhibiting may be increased by 10% in 1999. "We understand that we can improve," she said. "We must build new halls. Coneco [construction fair], for example, is our biggest fair, and we need 30,00 square meters but we only have 25,000. However, we are improving step by step, new halls are being opened. But we are a private company, and we cannot get loans from Slovak banks because of the interest rates."

Dargaj reported that Incheba had taken loans in the past at rates of between 25% and 30% interest, and was now having to repay the expensive credits.

"Four years ago, we had no halls," Janatová concluded. "We must continue to expand, but we need money for that. We cannot get it from the banks, so we must get it from the exhibitors. Only then can we offer a better product."

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