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Weaving all the elements

Posted On Wednesday, 23 June 2010 02:00 Published by eProp Commercial Property News
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The upgraded World Cup football stadiums are ventures with little chance of balancing their R17bn costs once the buzz of the vuvuzelas has stilled, says Carol Weaving.

Construction IndustryTHE 10 new or upgraded World Cup football stadiums are ventures with little chance of balancing their R17bn costs once the buzz of the vuvuzelas has stilled. That’s the view of Carol Weaving, SA’s leading expert on exhibitions and venue management.

"Most of these venues were delivered over budget and not designed for multipurpose use,” she says. “They can’t meet the future demands of high attendance trade and business events.” World-famous stadiums in the US are suffering similar problems in finding income to meet their running costs and to service the loans taken out to build them, she adds.

“Our World Cup venues, likewise, cannot rely on sports attendance alone to generate a return on their investment. They will also miss out on bookings from the business sector.

“It’s shortsighted planning because the World Cup was primarily brought here to encourage the growth of trade and business through SA to the whole of Africa.”

Weaving made her reputation by staging a landmark outdoor lifestyle expo in Midrand in 1988.

The young events manager followed up by becoming the Automobile Association’s director of exhibitions during its management of the Kyalami racetrack, and next as a consultant on the facilities needed to put Johannesburg’s then newly built Northcliff Dome into profit.

Today, the Dome is the busiest expo and concert venue in the city, part of the portfolio of the Thebe Exhibitions & Projects Group (TEPG).

Weaving, now MD of TEPG and a 30% shareholder, is behind the construction of another Dome-styled events centre in Lagos. Her division is also on the short list to manage a new stadium in Dar-es-Salaam.

Voted Businesswoman of the Year last August in the Entrepreneur category by SA’s Business Women’s Association, she keeps her focus on what the industry needs to lead the growth of trade and exports on this continent.

In a word, it’s venues.

Weaving insists that the right facilities built in the right locations in Africa will attract the same level of business use over the next 10 years as she’s achieved with the Dome.

While the global media exposure is focused on SA as the gateway to the continent’s events and exhibitions market, other African centres are moving fast to stake their claim on the bookings to come.

TEPG’s management of the branded Coca-Cola Dome — which produces an average 70% 80% annual use for trade shows, events and concerts — makes Weaving’s 70-strong team a front-runner to replicate the formula in sub-Saharan Africa.

“There are venues and stadiums going up in major centres to meet the projected demand,” Weaving says, at her company offices in Bryanston. “The trend is to regionalise the hubs in east and west Africa.”

The export trade is thriving in Africa, she notes. Minerals and oil are leading the trend, and trading partners such as China have completed conference and exhibition venues in east and west Africa to host the deal makers of future business.

“In Lagos, an international conference centre is under construction and we ourselves are looking to get involved a major centre similar to the Dome in that city.

“With a population of 150 million and a huge consumer society, the demand in Nigeria for shows and entertainment is very strong.”

The British-born expo guru arrived in Johannesburg in the late 1980s at the age of 21, keen to find a niche in the business boom she believed would come under a democratic government.

Within a year her first consumer exhibition — the Safari Show in Midrand — attracted 18000 visitors over a weekend. “There were no facilities to handle that size of an event back then,” she says. “I booked the Soundstage theatre and put up a couple of marquees to accommodate exhibitors of game lodges, fly fishing, leisure clothing and camping gear. “The exhibitors and visitors couldn't get enough of it. I found my career path then and there.”

Her potential was next spotted by the international Dutch exhibitions group RAI, which made her head of its Africa operation at the age of 32. In 2006, by which time she’d led a buy-out of RAI (SA) by the Thebe group, Weaving was chairing the South African Exhibition Association (Exsa).

A study she commissioned that year confirmed the rapid growth of the South African industry since her 1988 Midrand initiative. Nearly 3,7-million visitors attended 120 events, featuring nearly 2000 foreign and 24000 SA exhibitors.

The survey found that the annual direct spend in the South African economy as a result of exhibition activity alone was more than R74bn. That figure included R27bn spent on trips, stands and follow-up meetings, R20bn in tourism spend, and R47bn on confirmed deals.

In 2006 too, of course, the government was studying the World Cup held that year in Germany for ways to benefit the business sector by hosting the tournament here. By then, according to Exsa’s report, the exhibition industry was contributing an overall R160bn to the national economy — including all the spin-offs generated through tourism, hospitality and transport. It was also sustaining close to a million jobs at all levels of employment.

The events industry, however, was not part of the consultation on the design of the new and upgraded stadiums in the process of planning the $2,2bn (R17bn) expenditure. “Fifa set the specs for these new stadiums to host its football World Cup,” says Weaving. “The developers did not always talk to the operators of events regarding what they’ll need to keep the venues busy in the next 10 to 15 years.”

Consultation, she says, could have led to extra facilities being built into the structures to suit bookings for major conferences, exhibitions and concerts.

“Sure, they consulted with operators of sports events,” she adds, “but not to people in our sector of the business market.”

Estimating that her industry nowadays is generating nearly twice as much as it was five years ago, Weaving is closely tracking the measures being taken by international stadiums to attract business and entertainment events during the midweek downtimes.

Loss of revenue flow due to poor planning, was the hot item on the agenda of last month’s Global Stadium Conference in New York, which she attended. “For some major US stadiums, TV rights and naming sponsorships are making up the annual balance,” she says. “But overheads are high and servicing loans on the building costs are massive.

“Operating costs are soaring annually. The costs of electricity alone are crippling, and in SA’s case Eskom’s projected tariff hikes are already jeopardising the future of the stadiums being established as prime venues by this World Cup.”

This funding dilemma is causing the US venues to cater to multipurpose events ranging from banquets to greyhound racing. Each option requires extra facilities being installed.

The outlay, she says, makes sense. “Otherwise, our World Cup stadiums are going to lose money. That’s the reality. The challenge for the developers and ourselves is to find ways of keeping them busy.”

While government and big business have raised their game to meet Fifa’s standards in terms of running football at these venues, that alone will not repay the outlay.

“Facilities are improved,” Weaving accepts. “But government and the cities have to come to the party and invest more right after the World Cup ends. It’s exhibitions, trade shows, conferences and events that bring the long-term economic spin-offs.”

Our World Cup venues, likewise, cannot rely on sports attendance alone to generate a return on their investment


Last modified on Wednesday, 30 October 2013 11:00

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