Background Carol Weaving:
Managing Director of Reed Exhibitions Africa, Carol Weaving’s name has been synonymous with the exhibition industry in South Africa (SA) for over 30 years. An industry leader, she was the first female and youngest director of the Kyalami Racetrack and has since been reputed for her passion for delivering high-profile, customer-focused events in established and emerging markets, generating billions in business revenue.
She has also been successful in garnering significant foreign investment in the SA exhibition industry. First, by selling a majority share in her own company to Dutch exhibition company RAI and heading up RAI South Africa. Subsequently, understanding the need for transformation, she sold the majority share in RAI to an empowerment partner, Thebe Tourism Group.
In November 2013 she facilitated a joint venture between Reed Exhibitions, part of the FTSE listed RELX Group, and Thebe Tourism Group Pty Ltd to acquire a majority share in Thebe Exhibitions & Projects Group (TEPG). Reed Exhibitions subsequently bought out Thebe Tourism’s remaining shares in TEPG and changed its name to Reed Exhibitions Africa.
She pioneered and conceptualised or managed some of the major award-winning exhibition titles and trade shows in SA such as Meetings Africa, Decorex, Mediatech Africa, 100% Design, Sports and Events Tourism Exchange, Africa Automation Fair, International Sourcing Fair, Value Added Agricultural Expo in Kenya and Ghana, The Fire & Feast Butchers Festival, FIBO Business Summit Africa, #BuyaBusiness Expo alongside the Small Business Expo and Africa Travel Week comprising of World Travel Market Africa, ILTM and IBTM.
Today Reed Exhibitions Africa is one of the largest companies of its kind in Africa, with significant market share and it is ready to increase its African footprint.
Her knowledge of the African exhibition industry and her success as a woman in the industry makes her a popular speaker and panellist.
I asked Carol a few questions about her daily duties and about the South African Exhibition Industry as a whole.
1. Please tell me a bit more about your daily job?
“The sheer size of Reed Exhibitions Africa now means that my day-to-day duties have changed significantly. The industry itself has grown phenomenally but we have launched quite a few new shows, a number of geo clones and some brand-new launches in new sectors and new geographies. A few acquisitions have also either been completed or are in the pipeline.
In recent years I have been able to focus my energy on the strategic vision of Reed Exhibitions Africa and, more recently, of the Association of African Exhibition Organisers (AAXO). Through AAXO we are able to serve the industry and work with the most professional local and International organisers in South Africa. Our aim is to continue to bring professionalism and credibility to the exhibition industry as well as train, educate and look for new opportunities for the greater good of the industry, providing resources that I wish were available to me when I started!
My days are long and I travel extensively, but I wouldn’t want to have it any other way.”
2. South Africa is one of the economic hotspots in Africa. Why should an international exhibition organiser launch his shows in your country?
“South Africa is the region’s wealthiest economy per capita. Despite the challenges facing sub-Saharan Africa, economies like South Africa’s have been attracting international investment interest. The exhibition industry has grown significantly in the last 10 years with many international organisers setting their sights on the South African and African exhibition industry as a new frontier for growth.
As South Africans we understand the way business in Africa works. It is very different to the way it works in North America for example. The success of business in Africa (and also the exhibition industry) rests in face-to-face, partnerships and relationships. It is, therefore, an ideal launchpad into business in the rest of the continent – a market of approximately 1 billion people. South Africa was 74th on the “Ease of doing Business” ranking in 2016, according to the World Bank. This puts us ahead of China.
South Africa has much to offer in terms of commodities, consumer goods, the entertainment industry, tourism, travel and the finer things in life, agriculture, manufacturing and the extractive industries. The city of Cape Town is well-known and the fact is that the size of the economy of Cape Town compares to some African countries.
Our people are open and friendly and the demographic in South Africa is diverse with a growing middle class and increased spending power. We have an abundant supply of skilled and unskilled labour available.
The infrastructure in South Africa is of the most sophisticated and reliable on the continent. We have over 100 world-class exhibition and conference venues, the capacity of which are the largest in Sub-Saharan Africa. We are, in fact, approaching other African countries to assist them in developing their venues.
And then, of course, the beauty of South Africa as a tourism, business and leisure destination is unparalleled as one of the world’s leading destinations.
Overall, international organisers who have settled in South Africa with an innovative, long-term mindset, have been rewarded with ample business opportunities and value for money. As an example, at WTM Africa in 2015 alone deals of USD333bn were closed between exhibitors and buyers. No small change!”
3. Between you and me – which South African industry still needs an exhibition and what are the gaps in your exhibition diary?
“The consumer market in South Africa, though growing, is almost saturated but there is definitely a trend towards smaller more niche shows to cater to different consumer needs. There is a fantastic opportunity for organisers to provide more sophisticated ‘educationals’ and entertainment to draw visitors.
Tourism coupled with exhibitions, has become very popular and foreign visitors will find excellent value for money. In fact, exhibitions alone have contributed R23bn to the tourism industry in South Africa.
The small size of tradeshow markets in relation to the economies of countries in Africa shows that there is definitely room for growth. The government recently announced a bidding fund of R110m over the next three years, which will have a remarkable effect on our ability to effectively compete in the international market.
And then there is also the opportunity to clone certain South African shows and take them into Africa. We have seen great success in this already. Further, we need to focus on developing small business, seek export opportunities and sectors aligned to areas of key government spending.”
4. South Africa is famous for wine, BBQ and a great football championship. Tell me one fact about your country people might not know.
“South Africans love BBQ (we call it a ‘braai’) so much that we will even BBQ in the rain and have a specific exhibition dedicated to it. We also compete in the World Barbecue Championships. We have the most amazing people, rich in culture. Call me biased, but you cannot better South African hospitality!”
Profile of Carol Weaving
Carol Weaving grew up in the Cotswolds in Gloucestershire, United Kingdom. She studied marketing and communications and started a career in radio, before I emigrated to South Africa in 1987.
Over the past 30 she worked in all facets of South Africa’s business tourism industry including arranging exhibitions, events and conferences, managing venues and facilities, educating, organising and strategic planning.
Some of the highlights of her career include:
• First female and youngest director of the Automobile Association at Kyalami racetrack.
• Starting her own company and selling a majority share to Dutch exhibition company RAI, and then heading up RAI South Africa.
• Proceeding to facilitate a buy-out of RAI shares to the Thebe Tourism Group Pty Ltd, an empowerment partner and a subsidiary of the Thebe Investment Corporation.
• In November 2013 Reed Exhibitions, part of the FTSE listed RELX Group, signed a joint venture agreement with the Thebe Tourism Group Pty Ltd and myself to acquire a majority share in Thebe Exhibitions & Projects Group (TEPG). Reed Exhibitions subsequently bought out Thebe Tourism’s remaining shares in TEPG and changed it’s name to Reed Exhibitions Africa holding a 90% share and 10% myself.
• Facilitating the complete turnaround and rebranding of the Ticketpro Dome, a white elephant 17 years ago, now one of the most successful venues in Johannesburg.
• Chariperson for the Association of African Exhibition Organisers (AAXO) and a past chairperson of the Exhibition Association of Southern Africa (EXSA). She has also served on the board of the Southern African Association for the Conference Industry (SAACI).
Awards and accolades:
o Entrepreneur of the Year Award at the Virgin Active Sport Industry Awards 2012 for the Sports & Events Tourism Exchange
o Top Performing Business Woman of the Year at the African Access National Business Awards 2011
o Winner of the Business Woman of the Year in the Entrepreneurial Category (BWA 2009)
o Selected as Meetings magazine’s Top 40 Women in MICE initiative in 2014.
o Top Female Entrepreneur of the Year and the company the Top Gender Empowered Company: Travel, Leisure and Entertainment.
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