How is the trade fair industry doing in Latin America?

After all eyes have been on the Asian market, Latin America is now also coming into the spotlight. And prospects there sound rather tempting.

Photo: Andrés López Valderrama
Photo: Andrés López Valderrama

Expert: Andrés López Valderrama
CEO, Corferias, Bogotá 
UFI President 2014/2015

Strong dynamism 

Driven partly by a highly dynamic economy, the Latin American exhibition industry has seen a significant development over the last decade. This has led to improved quality standards, more industry-specific diversification, and larger international exhibitor and visitor figures. Foreign fair companies have come to realise that Latin America is a major growth region, with many international event organisers now engaging in activities there.   

Many opportunities 

Compared to the established markets in Europe or the USA, Latin America is a “fresh region” – especially as a source of business opportunities. Emerging (trade fair) destinations and (trade fair) infrastructure projects provide a great scope for investment. Foreign organisers can collaborate with local partners and stage fairs in industries that are now posting strong growth.

Major challenges 

Despite countless improvements and an increasingly high level of professionalism, there are still challenges that need to be mastered. In view of the economic importance of fairs, it is necessary to raise more awareness and gain more support from local governments. In addition, better fair statistics and certified events are necessary. There is also a need for more training possibilities and certified training programmes. Certifications for exhibition service providers and greater technological expertise are further vital requirements.   

Widely visible eye-catchers: construction machines at Corferias. (Photo: Corferias)
Widely visible eye-catchers: construction machines at Corferias. (Photo: Corferias)

Three main blocks 

Based on a wide range of criteria the Latin American exhibition industry can be divided into three main blocks. Firstly, there are the more strongly developed markets. They include Brazil, Mexico, Colombia and Argentina and account for 63 per cent of Latin American fairs. Secondly, there are the “emerging markets” such as Ecuador, Chile and Peru, where 15 per cent of fairs take place. Thirdly, we have the “developing markets” like Uruguay, Paraguay, Bolivia, Venezuela and Central America. They account for the remaining twelve per cent of Latin America’s trade fair “pie”.

Numerous “solo” organisers 

Another interesting aspect is that over three-quarters of Latin American fairs are, metaphorically speaking, “one-man shows”. 77 per cent of organisers only stage one fair, whereas only two per cent of all companies in the entire region host eleven to 50 fairs. More details on this and further topics will be revealed at the UFI congress in Bogotá, where the association Afida will publish a book titled “Latin American Markets and Exhibitions 2015-2016”.   

Heterogeneous exhibition culture 

A huge continent with a population of 600 million and strongly heterogeneous markets has not just one culture – each case needs to be analysed in detail. Nevertheless, some observations apply to all of Latin America. For example, business relations are based on trust and long-term processes. Therefore, a foreigner needs to know his potential partners very well, in addition to their cultural, economic and social backgrounds. Like in other international markets, it is vital to have a local partner who can be trusted at the location. Another, highly specific feature of Latin American trade show culture is the strong relevance of consumer shows. Although specialised trade shows are a big trend, there is still a large number of consumer fairs and mixed B2B/B2C events. 

Less formal 

The main intercultural differences between Latin America and the USA or Europe are due to the fact that Latin America is marked by emerging economies. Hence, all aspects of business life are a bit more casual and laid-back. As a good example, talks are less formal. Even in advanced negotiations, new topics may suddenly be discovered. In some countries, the very first conversation may even be dedicated to more personal or general matters and less to specific business affairs. Negotiations may be a bit humorous but also emotional or verging on the intimate with touching and embracing. However, exhibitors will later need to be patient when it comes to obtaining confirmation for agreements.

International stand construction 

The Latin American stand construction sector meets international standards in terms of quality, design, creativity, materials and the use of technologies. Compared to other global regions, local exhibitors are less willing to spend. For this reason, the price level is rather moderate. At trade fairs one can therefore find many high-quality stands at a “reasonable price”. Moreover, the competition tends to be rather fierce, especially in Brazil and Argentina.


This article was published in TFI issue 5/2014


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