The Role of Exhibitions in the Global Economy: A Tool for Sustainable Economic Growth


The Association of African Exhibitions Organisers (AAXO), in collaboration with South African Tourism and the Exhibition and Events Association of South Africa (EXSA), raises awareness about the vital contribution of exhibitions in promoting economic development at the Global Exhibitions Day (GED) panel discussion.

8 June 2023: Meetings, Incentives, Conferences, and Exhibitions (MICE) have emerged as a vital component of the global economy, fostering economic growth, promoting trade and investment, and creating employment opportunities. In fact, a recent study predicts that the global events industry is projected to reach $1,337.4 billion by 2028, registering a compound annual growth rate of 21.3% from 2021 to 2028.

The Association of African Exhibition Organisers (AAXO), the Exhibition and Events Association of South Africa (EXSA) and South African Tourism collaborated to organise a stimulating discussion on Global Exhibitions Day (7 June 2023) – an initiative spearheaded by the Global Association of the Exhibition Industry, UFI – which was hosted at the Gallagher Convention Centre, and was hosted alongside Securex, a definitive interactive platform for security technology and services in Africa, bringing everything security-related under one roof.

With the role that MICE plays as an economic enabler high on the agenda, entrepreneur and media personality, Noluthando Mthonti, welcomed the audience with a reminder that various industries need to organise and take stock of the value that they contribute to the global economy. “Not only are industries served by bringing together exhibitors and visitors, but the organisations that facilitate these interactions contribute to strong economic growth, and social and environmental benefits,” said Mthonti.

Leading into the keynote, Sibusiso Mncwabe, Chairperson of the Exhibition and Events Association of South Africa (EXSA) said: “As we gather here, representing diverse industries, cultures, backgrounds and age groups, we are united by our shared vision and the unwavering belief in the transformative power of exhibitions.” He went on to elaborate how exhibitions are the breeding ground for ideas, cutting-edge technologies, ground-breaking discoveries and visionary concepts converged to shaping the future and serve as a catalyst for collaboration, fostering meaningful relationships and igniting sparks of innovation.

According to Mncwabe, whilst the pandemic tested the industry’s resilience, it has been forced to adapt and reimagine the way that it connects, collaborates and creates through digital platforms and has shown immense potential through the opportunity – and obligation – of organisers to rebuild the exhibition landscape. “Exhibitions are an important driver of economic growth, creating jobs and generating revenue for local economies.

They attract visitors from all around the world who, in turn, spend money on accommodation, transportation, entertainment and a host of other goods and services related to the industry,” added Mncwabe.

Nomasonto Ndlovu, Acting Chief Executive Officer and COO at South African Tourism

The panel discussion went on to unpack the critical conversation on how the South African MICE industry contributes directly to tourism with Nomasonto Ndlovu, Acting Chief Executive Officer and COO at South African Tourism highlighting that events play an essential role in terms of South African social development. According to Ndlovu, South Africa has a compound growth rate of about 21% of the global events industry (2022 – 2028): “We know that the events industry plays a significant and meaningful role in relation to the tourism of the country, and strategically, as SA Tourism, is an industry that will support in our marketing of the destination,” added Ndlovu.

“As AAXO, we have been expanding and extending ourselves across the continent; and forming relationships to ensure that we can develop business together so that we can market our countries, individually and collectively,” added Projeni Pather, Spokesperson and Immediate Past Chairperson at AAXO. She continued: “What we’ve learnt over the past three years is that the world is a small place, Africa even smaller, and we need to work together to highlight and expand the opportunity in the exhibition industry.”

When asked where the industry is headed in the current economic climate, Justin Hawes, Managing Director at Scan Displays, said: “I’m encouraged to see the growth of the African exhibitions industry. I do, however, think that we need governments to embrace the industry and I’m pleased that our South African government has embraced it, but I’d like to see more government entities collaborating to facilitate further growth. Another prime example is the Zambian government who truly understand how events are growing their economy – not just from investment, but for knowledge exchange too.”

ESG, a hot topic across industries, was unpacked by Morwesi Ramonyai, Chairperson of the Event Greening Forum who spoke to the importance of integrating green strategies in exhibitions: “When we have exhibitions, the impact on the environment is quite big due to a lot of consumption. For this reason, we must always embrace sustainability and how we plan and execute our events from carbon emissions, to community impact and maintaining the global temperature.” Pather agreed, saying that green eventing has been on the agenda for a very long time and, as the years have passed, has become more achievable through education on the importance of sustainability.

Further to this, exhibitions open up a host of job opportunities for communities. Hawes insisted that the industry should embrace those entering the job market and welcome them to learn and grow into their roles. Ramonyai weighed in on the topic of green events, saying that the green economy would develop up to 350 000 jobs across the value chain and specifically within the key part of events: green buildings and venues.

“The MICE industry plays a crucial role in the global economy, driving economic growth, fostering innovation, and facilitating trade and investment. By hosting conferences, exhibitions, and other MICE events, countries and cities can tap into the potential of this industry to create sustainable economic growth and generate employment opportunities.

As the world evolves, it is essential to prioritise sustainability in organising MICE events, ensuring a positive impact on the environment, and leaving a lasting legacy for host communities. With its multifaceted contributions, the MICE industry will continue to shape the global economy in the years to come,” concludes Pather.


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