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Exhibitions, conferences sector reels under pandemic stress

21 Feb 2021 By MOHAMMED TAHA

The exhibitions and conferences sector is in deep financial crisis, according to event organisers and management companies in the sultanate.

Such businesses have suffered owing to the announcements suspending these events. Since the outbreak of the pandemic in the sultanate in early 2020, the government has set varying precautionary measures, including restricting gatherings of all kinds, in order to limit the spread of the virus. 

Speaking to Muscat Daily, Juma Mubarak al Araimi, chairman of the Board of Directors of Al Shaam for Organizing Exhibition and Festivals, said, “There have been many challenges faced by the exhibitions and conferences sector in the last three years. Now there is competition between countries, too, followinggovernment support extended to event management companies.”

Araimi, however, claimed such companies in the sultanate “suffer from a lack of government support and high rental prices at Oman Convention and Exhibition Centre which has led to the closure of many exhibition organising companies. COVID-19 has added to the woes, leading to heavy losses that are still continuing”.

He noted that the sector needs to be developed through investments in modern technologies and the establishment of a government body dedicated to such business events. “It must provide advice to exhibition companies. We hope the Supreme Committee sets a specific timeframe – say June or September – to reopen activities such as exhibitions and events to help companies operating in the sector to prepare for business,” Araimi said. 

According to Reema al Sajwani, owner and chairman of Reema Integrated Projects, the sector has faced numerous challenges for a whole year due to the pandemic. “We lost a lot of money due to the closure and continue to suffer. We are paying rent for office space and salaries to employees, but have no income or support from the government. Activities in our sector are still suspended. This could lead to the closure of our company,” Reema informed.

To stay afloat, her company tried organising online exhibitions and initiatives for small and medium enterprises. “But there is no alternative to offline events when it comes to SMEs. We hope the government grants permission to hold exhibitions and events to companies that adhere to the Supreme Committee decisions and not to those that violate its safety measures,” Reema said. 

Like other businesses in the sector, East Coast Company too notched up huge losses due to the suspension of activities. In these circumstances, its managing director Khadijah Mubarak al Batashi predicts several companies operating in the sector will shut down.

Khadijah sees low-interest or interest-free loans granted to SMEs operating in the sector as the only way out for these businesses to continue. 

“We launched an online platform called Souq al Ruwwad Exhibition to promote Omani products and encourage the culture of entrepreneurship, besides creating trade relations and facilitating exchange of experiences between participants. But it doesn’t work. The culture of online exhibitions isn’t developed. It needs more awareness before it is widely accepted,” Khadijah said. 

The Exhibitions and Conferences Committee of Oman Chamber of Commerce & Industry (OCCI) held its first meeting of 2021 on February 15. The meeting discussed the issue of financial compensation, and committee members urged Oman Development Bank to provide companies with reasonable guarantees to mitigate the effects that the exhibition and conference organisers faced due to the pandemic.

The committee demanded exemptions in government fees, rents and tax, in addition to discounts from the Oman Convention and Exhibition Centre when activities resume. The committee suggested the exhibitions sector be included in ODB and Raffd Fund for loans to SMEs to help these companies to get financial compensation. 

Eng Redha bin Jumah al Saleh, chairman of Board of Directors of OCCI, tweeted, “The exhibitions and conferences sector is a significant element of economic diversification, and plays an important role in the development and enhancement of national income. It achieves the goals of sustainable economic development. We’ll support the sector according to the available investment opportunities.”

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