UFI in Bogotá: El Dorado lures the exhibition world

After 39 years the global association of the exhibition industry will return to Colombia with its annual congress. Between 29 October and 1 November the focus will be on the growth market of Latin America.

The Corferias exhibition centre in Bogotá boasts 44,300 square metres of hall space. (Photo: Corferias)
The Corferias exhibition centre in Bogotá boasts 44,300 square metres of hall space. (Photo: Corferias)

The 81st UFI Congress was originally to take place in Brazil. Yet the number of other international events in the largest South American country upset plans. The designated hosts did not see themselves capable of holding the event according to their expectations. “They asked us if we could find another host,” reports UFI Managing Director Paul Woodward. The long-time member Corferias stepped in, permitting the event’s focus to remain on Latin America. Worries that the distance to Bogotá will keep away potential participants are ungrounded. “We have members in 83 countries around the world,” argues Woodward. “For every congress there will be someone who has to travel a long way.” This time it will affect the Asian members, who make up one third of UFI membership. Various Chinese exhibition experts, however, are not fazed – they are organising a significant delegation trip from Shanghai. All in all between 300 and 350 participants are expected in the Colombian capital.   

The legendary treasure of El Dorado supposedly lies in the mountain lake of Guatavita outside of Bogotá. Nowadays it is not the lure of gold that attracts business people. Rather, they come because of the economic prospects, which have generated strong interest in Latin America. The (exhibition) markets have evolved dynamically since the middle of the previous decade, although admittedly starting from a relatively small basis. The region has two giants, Brazil and Mexico. “Numerous international firms are currently active in both regions,” says Paul Woodward. “There are now many exciting venue developments increasing the capacity for modern trade fairs.” As concerns future prospects, the UFI has put out a favourable forecast of continuing solid growth for Brazil. Organisers are moving beyond the key cities to secondary areas. Moreover, “Mexico is ripe for further development,” believes Woodward, “especially in Mexico City, Guadalajara, and various other places.”

Lake Guatavita (Photo: Proexport Colombia)
Lake Guatavita (Photo: Proexport Colombia)

Beyond the two giants there are other important exhibition markets, such as in Argentina and Colombia. These countries, just like the entire region, have their own particular characteristics, which will surely be intensively discussed during the UFI congress – in addition to other exciting topics relevant to the exhibition industry (www.ufi.org). “There are many sophisticated and imaginative players in Latin America,” observes Paul Woodward, “this applies just as much to the smaller markets such as Chile, Peru, Bolivia, Panama, Cuba, Costa Rica, and Venezuela.” Noticeable exhibition activities have been taking place in the key industries. Cooperation and exchange among players is increasingly being stimulated, beyond national thinking. The trans-border exhibition association Afida has members from about ten countries. And there is another phenomenon: the interesting trade blocs are forming in Latin America. The Pacific Alliance, for example, a free trade zone uniting Chile, Costa Rica, Colombia, Mexico, and Peru.


“Latin America offers surprising opportunities!”

UFI Managing Director Paul Woodward on the reality on the ground, opportunities for the exhibition industry, and security aspects. (Photo: Paul Woodward)
UFI Managing Director Paul Woodward on the reality on the ground, opportunities for the exhibition industry, and security aspects. (Photo: Paul Woodward)

Latin America has often experienced political and economic crises. Why should event organisers form other continents engage themselves there?

Let’s not heed rumours too much and instead come and see for ourselves. There are many challenges in many parts of the world: for example low growth and unemployment plague much of Europe and we have serious problems in the former USSR. The Middle East has been unstable for years, while Asia is adjusting to a slower-growing China. In other words: there are both challenges and opportunities in Latin America.     

What does this mean for the exhibition industry? 

It does not surprise me that many major UFI members are involved more and more in Latin America. Many participants will come to the congress in Bogotá and be surprised. Surprised by what business opportunities they will find in Latin America – in places they never considered before. The growing economies will generate exciting new trade fair opportunities.   

And what about security?   

We would never organise an UFI Congress in a location that we did not think was appropriate and safe. Take the normal precautions and care that you would travelling in most parts of the world. Then you will have a marvellous time in Colombia, and enjoy its vibrant culture.


Author: Peter Borstel

This article was published in TFI issue 5/2014


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