Following this year’s UFI Congress in Russia, Craig Newman from the Johannesburg Expo Centre will begin his tenure as UFI President. Mike Fletcher caught up with him to hear his aims and ambitions.
What lessons from the past 12 months will you bring with you into this role as UFI President?
The Johannesburg Expo Centre (JEC) hosted the Global Congress in 2017 and has benefitted from UFI membership since January 2010. It is a great honour to have been nominated as the first African UFI President and, from our region’s perspective, it is a huge step forward.
In my role as incoming UFI President over the last 12 months, I have understood that I will be representing not only the Middle East and Africa but also UFI on a global scale. Effective communication skills and diplomacy, together with high commitment to the UFI association and our strategy (Promote, Inform and Network) will be crucial in my role as the 2019 UFI President.
What does it mean to you personally to become the first African UFI President?
From talking to past UFI Presidents, I can see that chairing this wonderful association has been a highlight of their lives, and it most certainly is something very special for me. It really is an honour to have been selected and I intend to fulfil my presidential tasks, represent the association in all official activities, and be invested with full power to do so. And just as every president brings a special perspective from their nation’s heritage and culture, so will I with my own history and experiences. There is lots of room for Africa to grow in the exhibition industry, as we demonstrated with the Global Congress last November in Johannesburg.
Tell us a little bit about you as a person?
I’m a father of three, an outdoors person and I love to travel. I keep fit and enjoy running marathons when I get the chance. I love what I do and I get to meet interesting people all the time and work with a fantastic team. But spending time with friends and family is really what it’s all about.
When your appointment was announced last year, Dr Andreas Gruchow, who was UFI President at that time, described you as ‘a man of action’. What action can we expect during your presidency?
He’s right, but I’m also a ‘man of passion’. Because whatever you do, you must be passionate about it if you want to do it right. My first objective is to make sure that I represent the UFI association and its values entirely. I will also make sure that the Middle East and Africa, which represent great potential for any exhibitor, are involved in the exhibition industry on a global scale. In recent months, we have been able to bring in a new UFI Regional Manager for the Middle East and Africa, working out of the office in Dubai. We are planning to hold a regional conference next spring, and we have discussed and decided on an action plan for the region. I am excited to drive this region’s presence forward for UFI.
How would you describe Africa’s current standing in the global exhibition world? How will you build on this?
There is a lot of untapped market potential. Africa is rising, and many international organisers are doing great business there already. South Africa is the leading market. According to the latest UFI Barometer, around 70% of South African exhibition companies expect to significantly grow their revenues in the first half of 2019, and 40% expect their profits to increase by over 10% this year.
But Africa is not one single market – it’s 54 countries in three major areas. Apart from South Africa, in Sub-Saharan Africa, our industry is still in development. And in the Maghreb and Egypt, you have a number of destinations and cities with well-established exhibitions and business events.
I invite all organisers from the region to use UFI to connect with their international peers, and all international organisers to also look at other developing markets in Africa – there is a lot happening in Egypt and Nigeria, for example.
How is business at the Johannesburg Expo Centre? Any announcements or plans for the future, for instance?
Business is good here at the JEC. It’s a very exciting time for us with the 125th instalment of The Rand Show next year. The Rand Show is still South Africa’s largest and most iconic consumer event locally and event-goers are in for a treat next year. We expect some of the activities and experiences there to even break world records. It sounds ambitious but watch this space.
What do you think are the main global challenges for exhibition organisers and venues at the moment?
The world is changing, and our business needs to respond to these changes, as has always been the case. Exhibitions are a reflection of the markets they serve, so economic development in our home markets as well as internationally are at the forefront of our minds. Also, the UFI Barometer shows that competition in our industry is increasing in many markets – driven by consolidation as well as a shift to more digital events and exhibitions. For venues, such as my home venue, investment in technology as well as top security are high on the agenda.
The UFI Congress will focus heavily on new business models and the transition to modernity. Are these key issues for the South African market?
Yes, new business models and the transition to modernity are global issues, also concerning the South African market. The UFI Congress is the place where these matters will be debated with knowledgeable experts, and where we can share experiences and learn from other members. This is why the UFI community is so important. Concerning Africa, we are known for finding an “African way” – leapfrogging whole stages of industry developments. Like moving straight to mobile technologies around payments.
What advice would you offer Mary Larkin, UFI’s incoming President, to prepare for her role during the year ahead?
I very much enjoy working with Mary already and look forward to working even more closely with her as she becomes a member of the presidential trio in St. Petersburg, preparing for her year as UFI’s President. I will share with her my experience throughout the whole year of my presidency, so that she can be prepared for her presidential role in 2020. But she for sure will not need any special advice. I think it’s great that UFI will now have the first-ever US president – we’ve had presidents from Latin America, Russia, China, and now Africa. I think it was about time, so that’s great.
South Africa is famous for wine, ‘braai’ and the vuvuzela. Tell us one event-related fact that we don’t know about your country?
South Africa is the proud host of one of the world’s largest mining exhibitions, which takes place every second year at the Johannesburg Expo Centre. Mining is South Africa’s third largest business sector after agriculture and manufacturing, contributing almost 10% to the country’s GDP. South Africa is the world’s largest primary producer of platinum, with a 75% share of global supply.