Not appearing in this show

One thing that stands out the most about last week’s Gitex show, and if you attended the event you might not have noticed among the usual busy-ness of the show, but the fact of the matter is that there were quite a lot of big technology companies who were missing from the show

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By  Mark Sutton Published  October 26, 2008

One thing that stands out the most about last week’s Gitex show, and if you attended the event you might not have noticed among the usual busy-ness of the show, but the fact of the matter is that there were quite a lot of big technology companies who were missing from the show.

Actually, missing is not quite the right word. As mentioned, you might well have thought that these companies were exhibiting at the event. Their executives were there, they were advertising in the newspapers and radio, and they were shifting products at Shopper.

But out of the top seven or eight PC vendors in the Middle East, only Dell was actually exhibiting at the show (I’m not counting HP’s tiny kiosk). The rest were at Shopper, announced products, met with customers and partners, but if you were looking for them, you’d find them in nearby hotels rather than in the DWTC halls.

The PC vendors weren’t alone. There were noticeable absences from many other technology majors - Sony, Canon, LG, Nokia, Sharp, Viewsonic – all companies that had supported the show in the past, but weren’t there this time.

And it wasn’t just hardware. Enterprise majors like IBM and SAP weren’t involved, neither was Cisco (unless you count its consumer brand Linksys), ProCurve or Juniper. The keynote address came from Sun Microsystems, but the company didn’t have its own stand. Only the two UAE telcos were represented in Gulfcomms. Intel and AMD stuck with partners or participation through other exhibitors.

It’s not necessarily a new trend – last year Microsoft wasn’t at Gitex, and there are other companies like EMC who have not been involved for some time. The big US and European shows have all gone through changes. But this year marks a sea change in terms of the sheer amount of big names who weren’t there.

When I spoke to the Trade Centre before the event about the absences, they said that the show’s timings didn’t always fit with product release cycles, and that overall, the number of exhibitors were up by 300 on the previous year. They did admit to some concern over companies not participating, but pointed out that companies like Dell and Google were participating for the first time, and expected others to come back in future.

The conversations I had with companies painted a different picture though. Certainly most companies don’t wait for trade shows to release products anymore, the industry moves too fast for that, and global launches tend to be headline events for those companies.

The main reason that most of the non-exhibitors gave was the same – Gitex just doesn’t give them a good return on investment any more – it’s too expensive.

Almost all of the companies still see value in Gitex as the focal point of the year for the region’s IT industry. But taking a stand, and the associated costs of the stand, the time out of office for key staff and time spent organizing doesn’t translate into business return anymore.

Many of the PC vendors had product showcases off site, and a retail presence at Shopper. This allows them to meet important customers and partners, show them new lines and have serious discussions with them in the comfort of a hotel suite, not in the noise of a trade show. Them, and their partners, still get the retail sales through Shopper, but they have a much more cost effective way of getting their message across.

I don’t think that the DWTC is completely oblivious to these issues. They have increased the scale of the Gitex conference in response to customer feedback - but even then, other companies are also increasing educational opportunities off-site. IBM even has its own CIO-level event held in parallel to the show, which the company tells me was very well attended. The overall impression I get is that it’s possible to have a productive week without going anywhere near Gitex proper.

In a mature market, the role of a trade show will change, at least for the well-established companies. Most vendors know their customers and know their partners, and aren’t going to get tens of thousands of dollars worth of business just walking up to their stand in a trade show. There’s still a role to play for smaller companies, for international business or companies in emerging areas of technology, but the trade show format needs to be more tailored to business networking, in depth product demonstration and discussion, than a noisy, crowded consumer event.

In 2010, Gitex is due to be the first expo held at the Trade Centre’s new facilities in Jebel Ali. If DWTC can get the right formula, and given adequate space, more facilities and an expanded focus on networking and education, it could prove to be a reinvigoration for the Gitex brand that will bring back the big names to the show.

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