Opened two weeks ago, the annual bazaar organized by the Exhibition Centre & Market Development Enterprise saw the participation of over 400 exhibitors and 3,000 visitors a day. The Enterprise expects up to 10,000 visitors by the end of the event.

It has been a year since Mesqel Square reclaimed its place as the capital’s favourite site for public gatherings and popular functions. It reopened after a lengthy facelift cost taxpayers a whopping 2.5 billion Br. Despite the spending, the Square is captivating, especially at night, when bright lights blaze the walkways leading up to the Addis Abeba Exhibition Centre entrance, luring visitors.

Last week, crowds were flocking to the Centre wearing eager expressions, attending the ritual new year exhibitions and the bazaar that goes with them.

Music filled the air, and traditional dancers performed in the distance in colourful outfits on stage. The festive atmosphere accompanied visitors as they walked into the Centre to do what they had come for: shopping.

The Centre has long served as the venue for holiday events. It is run by the Exhibition Centre & Market Development Enterprise, a public enterprise under the Addis Abeba City Administration. The Enterprise also oversees the refurbished Mesqel Square next door. Opened two weeks ago, the annual bazaar stays open until the holiday’s eve on September 10. Four pavilions host up to 450 booths, each stocked with consumer goods such as clothing, furniture, kitchenware, and food items.

The Enterprise leases booths at rates determined by size, nine square metres for 65,000 Br being the cheapest. Vendors pay over 100,000 Br for larger ones. Almost all the booths were occupied last week, seeing vendors double what Teklu Abate, deputy general manager of the Enterprise, had seen during the Easter holiday exhibition a few months ago. Unlike the usual practice of leasing the space to an event organiser through bidding, it is the third time the Enterprise has organised a holiday exhibition on its own.

It hosted the most recent Christmas exhibition after Betahon Special Events Plc, a newcomer to the event industry, defaulted on its bid to host the event after offering a record-high 68 million Br. The company had also won the bid to host the Easter Bazaar, offering 43 million Br.

Nonetheless, Betahon’s aspirations for a dazzling debut on the holiday scene did not pan out well. The Enterprise’s executives were compelled to take matters into their own hands. Judging by the turnout last week, they have done a decent job. Shoppers were crowding the area, and the atmosphere was energised.

Three thousand visitors congregated at the exhibition a day. Teklu expects triple this number in the days leading up to the New Year holiday.

A third of the vendors Teklu and his team have rented space to hail from India, Turkey or Syria.

It was the ninth-holiday exhibition for Mudassir Gaifie, an Indan businessman. His booth was stocked with kitchen appliances. He hoped to lure buyers with a deal: Buy two items and get one free. Gaifie was selling a tomato slicer for 300 Br, and a vegetable chopper goes for 200 Br more. Selling up to 70 items a day, he seemed content with business.

Domestic vendors, too, were having a better time, primarily due to the products they have on offer and high demands.

The New Year's exhibition and bazaar held at Millennium Hall was opened on August 21, 2022. It will stay until the holiday’s eve on September 10.

Abdela Umer was among these vendors visible at the Centre last week. He claims not to have been worried by the competition. Nor does he distress about business as he was vending a highly sought-after consumer good: cooking oil. He worked as a distributor of sunflower oil imported from Turkey. His experience in the business meant he was confident about his prospects even before setting foot in the Exhibition Centre.

His expectations were well founded.

Recent months have seen retail prices of cooking oil hitting the roof. The market has been volatile since last May when retail prices for a five-litre container of sunflower oil jumped to 600 Br with no warning signs. A month later, consumers paid close to 1,000 Br for the same volume.

Abdella sells a five-litre bottle for 870 Br, 15pc lower than the going rate at retail shops. He sells as many as 120 bottles daily, earning more than 100,000 Br.

“It’s been remarkable,” he told Fortune.

The same does not hold for all vendors, however.

The exhibition is a much-needed prospect for Berana Leather Plc. A local firm incorporated eight years ago with 2.8 million Br capital, Berana manufactures shoes, purses, and belts. Anteneh Girma, its sales person, was manning the booth the company leased for 95,000 Br. It was a fee of 20,000 Br more than they had paid last time for a similar space.

Berana’s booth witnessed a marked drop in business this time around. Sales turnover has shrunk by over two-thirds, Anteneh told Fortune.

Despite the return of visitors to the Centre in drove, most consumers agree that this year’s exhibition is the most expensive they have ever attended. Consumers like Hanna Addisu are less inclined to open pocketbooks during this holiday.

A mother of one, Hanna visited the Centre last week to shop for school supplies for her fifth-grader son.

“I was expecting to find items for discounted prices,” she told Fortune.

It did not work out that way. She spent a whole afternoon weaving through the crowd and bartering with shopkeepers before buying a lunchbox for 1,800 Br. What she paid for had a slight margin compared with the price she should have paid elsewhere in town.

It is widely believed that items can be found cheaper at exhibitions, says Getie Andualem (PhD), lecturing marketing at the Addis Abeba University College of Business & Economics.

“Although there might be few items with lower prices, the main purpose of exhibitions is to allow consumers to shop for a range of products in one place,” said Getie.

This purpose is overshadowed by runaway inflation, which has shown little sign of slowing down since headline inflation surpassed the 30pc mark in August last year. The latest figure is no less menacing to consumers: Year-on-year headline inflation registered at 35.5pc in June 2022.

Surveys regularly released by the Ethiopian Statistics Service show that food inflation accelerated to 35pc with prices for most cereals continuing to rise. Non-food inflation came in at a little over 30pc.

The Enterprise executives say they considered the impact of inflation when setting up the exhibition. They have rented out 38 booths to consumers’ associations, free of charge. However, only six have set up shop at the bazaar thus far.

“We’re hoping the remaining will show up as the holiday approaches,” said Teklu.

The Exhibition Centre is not the only place hosting holiday-related events this year. The Millennium Hall on Africa Avenue (Bole Road) is also a venue for a New Year exhibition. Built by the tycoon Mohammed Hussein Ali Al-Amoudi (Sheikh), the Hall lies a few hundred metres from Bole International Airport. A property of Addis Park Development & Management Plc (a subsidiary of the MIDROC Investment Group), the Hall welcomed fewer visitors last week than the other venue.

Habtamu Negash, marketing manager at Addis Park, attributed this to the Millennium Hall’s prolonged absence from the event scene.

For a year after the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Hall was used as an isolation and treatment centre accommodating close to 1,000 beds. It was later converted to a rehabilitation centre for military personnel injured during the war in the north. However, the Hall has hosted six events in the past two months, including graduation events.

“We want people to know we’re back in business,” said Habtamu.

It was opened on August 21 and stays open until New Year’s Eve.

The Hall’s interior is still off-limits to exhibitors and visitors. Four pavilions installed outdoors house more than 100 booths. The management of Addis Park approached five companies last month to compete to organise a holiday exhibition on the premises.

Century Promotion Plc, a veteran in the industry incorporated three decades ago, came out on top. The company has organised over 70 exhibitions and bazaars.

“The price it offered was relatively low,” Habtamu told Fortune. “Century Promotion was selected because of its rich experience.”

Century’s managers spent 15 million Br in organising the event, according to Zewege Jemaneh, general manager.

Nonetheless, a third of the space available for vendors remains idle. The General Manager says the lack of activity could be down to time limitations.

“We only had two weeks to organise the exhibition,” Zewege told Fortune.

The company rents booths for anywhere between 40,000 Br and 75,000 Br. Though the rates are significantly lower than those offered at the Exhibition Centre, more businesses have opted to lease space at the latter.

Zewege, too, hopes to see the number of visitors pick up in the days leading up to the holiday.

PUBLISHED ON Sep 10,2022 [ VOL 23 , NO 1167]

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