The Exhibition Centre near Mesqel Square is busy with shoppers and sellers displaying their ware at the Easter Expo organised by Habesha Weekly, an event organiser and promoter.

The Addis Abeba Exhibition Centre at Mesqel Square caught the attention of Mutasim Eltegail, a Sudanese national, who is visiting Ethiopia for three weeks with his family.

He was looking for spices and Emebet Mekonnen’s booth, one of 500 vendors at the exhibition, caught his eye.

Organised by Habesha Weekly Promotions Plc, the venue opened on April 5, 2019, and will run until the eve of Ethiopian Easter on April 27.

“I bought toys, sandals and bags for my children,” he said. “The price is good, and I had a variety of options.”

The last item on his shopping list was spices, which he found at Emebet’s booth. She had displayed ten different spices with price tags that ranged from 40 Br to 90 Br.

Saying that customers are well aware of the quality of the products she sells, Emebet offers no discounts on her products.

“But the exhibition is not as we expected. We had planned to sell at least 3,000 Br worth of spices a day,” she adds. “We have managed only a third of that now.”

The exhibition, organised by Habesha Weekly, a decade-old local event organiser and promoter, was also responsible for last year's Easter and Christmas exhibitions. Habesha Weekly also hosts a weekly entertainment program at one of the local television stations, JTV, founded by a young musician, Joseph Gebre.

It won the bid to put up the expo at the Exhibition Centre, which hosts nearly 40 exhibitions a year, by placing a bid of 21 million Br with the Addis Abeba Exhibition & Marketing Development Enterprise, the venue manager. The tender to host the expo only considers financial offers and not technical capacity.

Exhibition Centre near Mesqel Square.

Owned by the Addis Abeba City Administration, the centre rests on a 27,000Sqm plot adjacent to Mesqel Square and is administered by the Addis Abeba Chamber of Commerce & Sectoral Association.

The centre has three operation pavilions with varying sizes: the first pavilion can accommodate 90 minimum-sized stalls, while the second and third pavilions can hold up to 48 booths each. Open space outside of the pavilions can accommodate an additional 140 stalls.

Habesha expects half a million visitors for the expo that features concerts by prominent musicians. During last Christmas, 524,000 people visited the centre.

Addis Abeba Exhibition Centre has been the lone exhibition venue for years until Millennium Hall opened a decade ago. The City Administration is planning to expand the facility with a huge investment.

Habesha spent six million Birr in advertising, promotions and entertainments. A 300Sqm Jurassic Park themed entertainment facility has been constructed, hosting seven dinosaur replicas that stand 12m high and weigh around half a tonne.

The park, which costs 50 Br to enter, had been visited by over 10,000 people by April 18, 2019. It costs 30 Br to 40 Br to enter the expo, which has already been visited by 310,000 customers.

“We increase the entrance fees to 40 Br in the afternoon, because a lot of people come for entertainment at that time,” said Samson Shiferaw, public relations head of Habesha.

He acknowledges that there are challenges, especially in the number of exhibitors that participated, which is 13 less than the last major holiday, Christmas, and the prices of goods are higher.

“The main reason for the decrease in the number of exhibitors is the shortage of foreign exchange, which has meant that they can’t import goods,” Samson said. “We discussed with the exhibitors to discount the price of goods.”

Shoppers and vendors milling at the Easter Expo in the Millennium Hall that is hosted by Jorka Events.

Foreign exchange has been a challenge in the country for a couple of years.

“If the situation stays like this, we will be forced to import only fuel and medicine,” Yinager Dessie (PhD), governor of the National Bank of Ethiopia told parliament last month.

On the other side of town, another Easter Expo was launched at the Millennium Hall, a venue built a decade ago by the Saudi tycoon, Sheikh Mohammed Hussein Ali Al-Amoudi who was recently released from Saudi Arabian prison after serving more than a year suspected of corruption.

The expo was put up by Jorka Events, a well-known event organizer of music concerts and festivals. Opened on April 7, 2019, the expo, which rests on 87,000Sqm, has 500 exhibitors and it is expected that 500,000 to 800,000 visitors will come through the gates by the end of the festival season.

This holiday expo features a 40 Br entry fee, game zones, a fashion show and an art exhibition.

Jorka set aside 25 million Br for both the coming New Year and Easter expos. It is currently renting two halls at Millennium Hall for 127,000 Br a day. In the last Christmas expo, the organiser spent three million Birr on advertising, promotional materials, musician fees and logistics, and roughly 700,000 people visited.

Fifty of the slots at Jorka's expo are now occupied by non-nationals, including Indians, Egyptians and Turks.

"Sofas, fridges, stoves and televisions are the most sold items at Millennium Hall,” says Tadesse Tamirat, marketing manager of Jorka Events.

Venus Moges, a civil engineer, went to the Exhibition Hall on April 17, 2019, where she bought dishes, spices and bought home decoration materials, albeit at a price higher than what he was expecting. "As I observed, there are not that many price discounts. It is the same as in the market," Venus observed.

Nonetheless, not all sellers were reluctant to offer discounts like Emebet. Solomon Addis, in his late 20s, is a salesperson for Classic, a local manufacturer that assembles television sets as well as produces receivers, chargers and speakers. He is a three-year veteran of the exhibition. Although he had come bearing discounts, selling a 32-inch television set for 7,500 Br in contrast to 12,000 Br in the market, it has not moved his merchandise that much.

“This expo is below our expectations,” he said. “We are selling less than half the number of the products that we had anticipated.”

A third exhibition centre is coming to the city through the efforts of the City Chamber and the City Administration along with the business community, the Addis Africa International Convention & Exhibition Centre in the Ayat area, Yeka District.

Yitbarek Takele, associate professor at the School of Business & Economics at Addis Abeba University believes such expos are beneficial to the local economy.

"The bazaar will help the local manufacturers to partner and network with non-national manufacturers and also promote the nation’s trade and investment and technology transfer," says Yitbarek. "But the capacity to get many benefits from the sector remains low, which needs to improve.”

Mutasim, the Sudanese national visiting the Exhibition Centre at Mesqel Square, did not buy the spices he was looking for from Emebet’s shop. But he did not fret.

“I have many other choices,” he said, as he headed toward the next spice shop.

PUBLISHED ON Apr 20,2019 [ VOL 20 , NO 990]

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