IFP Group Chairman Albert Aoun’s career in exhibitions started in Riyadh with the establishment of Riyadh Exhibitions Company (REC) followed by the establishment of International Fairs & Promotions (IFP) in Beirut in 1994, together with his two brothers Edward and Bechara. By 1995, IFP Lebanon had a full program of exhibitions serving the rebuilding efforts of Lebanon with the first edition of Project Lebanon. The company has since expanded across the Middle East to become one of the best-known regional operators in international trade fairs, events, conferences and congresses.
How did you get into the international exhibition business?
Back in 1979, my brother Edward and I were working in Saudi Arabia when we first considered the idea of entering into the exhibition business. Together with a group of distinguished Saudi businessmen, we formed a Riyadh-based exhibitions company called Al-Diyafa, which evolved into forming Riyadh Exhibitions Company Limited (REC) by 1984.
We started with our first exhibition hall near the Intercontinental Hotel at the centre of Riyadh and we engaged in a program of trade fairs aiming to serve the needs of the Saudi Government’s economic plans. At that time, the Saudi Government had launched its third five-year plan and the market was in need of technology, goods and services to all sectors.
In 1985, REC built its own centre north of Riyadh and has achieved, and continues to achieve, unmatched international recognition for its activities.
After establishing IFP Lebanon in 1994, further expansion started with the “Rebuild Iraq” exhibition held in Kuwait in 2004 and after that we progressively established with distinguished business partners in each country IFP Emirates in 1986, IFP Qatar in 2004, IFP Jordan 2005 and IFP Iraq in 2007.
In Qatar, we organize a variety of exhibitions including “Project Qatar”, part of the Project exhihibition series of exhibitions covering every aspect of the construction sector. This year, Project Qatar 2012 was considered one of the biggest shows in the Middle East in terms of exhibitor and visitor participation.
Throughout the last 31 years, IFP Group companies have been the leading organizers of international business to business trade fairs in Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the UAE, Iraq and Jordan. Our group enjoys a track record of organizing over 440 events in the region. Our shows cover specialized sectors including construction, energy, environment, industry, agriculture, food, ICT, healthcare, packaging, plastics, printing, education, hospitality, sports and tourism. No other company in the region organizes as many diversified events as the IFP Group.
Having such wide-reaching operations, you have most probably formed joint ventures and other partnerships with other companies and associations, will you please elaborate?
To create a successful event a lot of efforts are needed. It is a like an orchestra. Every member has a specific task and the collaboration and timing between the members are of utmost importance to reach the desired results. Outside support and partnerships add to our internal resources and we all play in the same orchestra. For Project Qatar 2012, we broke the records and had 2,083 exhibiting companies from 48 countries under one roof, including 21 country pavilions. To do that, we worked with more than 50 international trade organizations, governmental and non-governmental bodies and other local, regional and international institutions. The exhibition was deemed a big success by the record number of visitors and the feedback they gave us. We have built through the years well experienced and hard-working teams in all our countries’ operations and we have established a wide network of agents, supporting trade bodies, recurring sponsors and contributing governmental and non-governmental organizations.
Add to this the partnering bodies with who we co-organize specialized events. Also, public and private sector organizations come to us to organize and manage their events. They rely on our reputation, professionalism and track record. This happens in all the countries and could relate to tourism, sports, special congresses and events.
Over the years, IFP Group has enjoyed good status and relationship with many governments around the world that promote exports to the Middle East. Our network of agents and representatives are spread over 40 countries worldwide. They carry the IFP torch and keep local and close contact with our international exhibitors showing them the value of our exhibitions and encouraging them to participate.
As an expert, what trends are you noticing emerging in the international exhibition industry in general?
The industry is evolving following the needs of the markets. We do extensive research about the markets and the sectors we cover, and the sectors that we should cover. We analyze those needs and search for the companies that offer solutions to the needs of the markets. There is a good number of returning exhibitors, but there are always new countries and new companies that are participating in our exhibitions following the evolving needs of the markets.
I believe that the exhibition industry is all about networking and socializing with the aim of creating a neutral platform for companies to do business with their existing and new clients. The human element of networking and socializing will never change but the industry of networking is changing in terms of technology and digitization.
Today it is no longer enough to organize an exhibition during which exhibitors and visitors meet and then each goes its own way until the next year for another show. The process requires new forms of communication to keep the parties engaged during the interim period of the annual shows. So to keep pace with this emerging trend in the exhibition industry, we recently launched mobile applications for smart phones, which are called Mobile Apps and available on multi mobile platforms like iOS, Android and BlackBerry. We first introduced this application for Project Qatar 2012 and now at Project Lebanon 2012 and the EcOrient Conference. We intend to use similar applications for other shows.
The mobile App is designed to enhance exhibitors’ and visitors’ experiences before, during and after the show, by providing all the information regarding IFP Group in general and the exhibition and its concurrent events in particular. It also contains the list of all exhibitors with their contact details and their stand location, listed by alphabetical order, by profile and by country. Moreover, it provides the daily schedule of the EcOrient conference and its sessions. The App can be used before and after the show. Visitor can choose his favorite exhibitors, can organize his plan and save it automatically to his calendar within the app. Moreover, using the App on the smart phone, exhibitors can scan the QR Code available on the badges of visitors and save the contacts scanned to their contacts list, and enhance communication with them. The App also contains travel and accommodation tips, calendar of IFP future events , a contact information page and more.
The other thing of great importance in the exhibitions world today is information, information that is of interest to the exhibitor and makes international companies vie for their share of the market in different countries. Information gives the real pulse of the market. Recognizing the importance of the information, we have also launched a specialized news portal on the Internet, www.ifpinfo.com , a news site covering the various industries and economic sectors in all the countries of the region. Later, we will give access to our exhibitors to deliver information via our website to their customers about their latest products, their plans etc. This is also another form of communication.
In brief, we are employing digital technology to create connection throughout the year between the two concerned elements of any exhibition, exhibitor and visitor, and then at the time of the event, this connection becomes live and direct.
Finally, what can you tell us about Project Lebanon 2012 which will start in a few days?
Project Lebanon 2012 will be held under the auspices of the President of the Council of Ministers Mr. Najib Mikati at BIEL in central Beirut from Tuesday, June 5 till Friday June 8, from 4 to 10 pm. 800 local, regional and international companies from 28 countries are participating in the 17th edition of the show. This year’s edition of PL is the largest specialized trade exhibition ever organized in the Lebanese capital.
Project Lebanon 2012 will be held concurrently with two other specialized events; Energy Lebanon 2012, The International Trade Exhibition for Electricity, Water technology, Lighting and HVAC and EcOrient 2012, The International Trade Exhibition & Conference for Environmental Technologies, Sustainability, Alternative Energy, Water Technology and Clean Energy which is held in partnership with the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Paris (CCIP) , and with the support of the Lebanese Ministry of Environment and the Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Agriculture of Beirut and Mount Lebanon, and is the first specialized event of its kind in Lebanon.
Concurrently, the 4th edition of “Lebanon Sustainability Week” will be held on 6 and 7 June in cooperation with the Order of Engineers & Architects in Beirut, the Lebanese Center for Energy Conservation (LCEC), and Lebanon Green Building Council (LGBC), and will host a number of national and international experts to discuss and debate the environmental challenges in Lebanon and the region, and offering appropriate solutions.