Event organisers in the Middle East are undertaking professional audits of visitor numbers amid accusations of practices such as exaggerated attendance reports and inclusion of catering staff in official figures. So far, only a handful of exhibitions among the hundreds hosted in the region every year undergo audits from professional bodies such as BPA Worldwide. But the need for sponsors and exhibitors to justify the expense is providing an increasing impetus to change, said Aspen Aman, the Middle East business development manager for auditing BPA.
Organisers "are realising that the events industry is having the same squeeze on it as the rest of the media industry,", Ms Aman said. "They're trying to establish some kind of differentiation between themselves and other shows. It's that lack of accountability that makes it hard for any sponsor or exhibitor to arrive at any ROI [return on investment] on what they put into a show. "Some companies could be very honest about the number of people going through the door but they could include everyone from security guards to journalists that are reporting on the event to the cleaning staff. Not to denigrate janitors but they don't qualify as genuine event attendees," Ms Aman said.
BPA audits three events in the Middle East, and three other shows have applied for professional audits. The company also has four "private" audits with events companies that do not want the results to be made public. One event audited by BPA is The Big 5 construction show, organised by DMG World Media. Simon Mellor, the vice president of DMG World Media, said exaggerating visitor numbers was similar to falsifying print media circulation figures. "There are a lot of claims made in various markets in the region that may or may not be true," he said.
Mr Mellor added that, while the audit of The Big 5 visitor numbers was "an early venture for us with the BPA", it was the company's intention to audit its other shows in the Middle East. "It would be our aspiration to include our other events in due course," he said. "We think it's important to stand up and be honest with people, particularly in these difficult times." Mark Walsh, the group exhibition director at Reed Travel Exhibitions, which organises the Arabian Travel Market event in Dubai, said auditing was "an absolute prerequisite of all our shows".
Mr Walsh said the auditing company ABC verified visitor numbers from the registration information it sent to them. "It will give a much fairer analysis of what's coming through the door," he said. But Mr Walsh said there was a lower awareness among sponsors and exhibitors in the region about auditing than in other areas of the sector. "We don't have as many requests from the Middle East asking us whether we are audited," he said. Ms Aman said the push for greater accountability was mainly coming from event organisers.
"Unfortunately, it's not yet coming from sponsors and exhibitors. There is not yet the awareness - they don't know they can ask for accountability in an event," she said. It will take time before there is greater accountability within the market, said Ibrahim al Khaldi, the Middle East and Africa manager of the Global Association of the Exhibition Industry (UFI). "It's a long-term project ? you cannot expect it to happen within three or four years," Mr al Khaldi said.
He said the UFI had about 40 members in the region he covered, including the Dubai World Trade Centre. All UFI members are required to provide audited visitor numbers or risk losing their membership. email@example.com