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THE Zimbabwe International Trade Fair (ZITF) Company has embraced a hybrid business model that blends virtual elements and conventional physical engagements for both exhibitions and concurrent conferences as it re-invents itself amid the outbreak of the deadly Covid-19 pandemic.

The model will be fully piloted during the forthcoming 2021 ZITF Expo, pencilled for 23-27 August, newly appointed chief executive officer, Dr Nicholas Ndebele, has said.

This follows the unprecedented cancellation of ZITF 2020 edition in response to the Covid-19 outbreak and the subsequent implementation of lockdown measures, which have crippled global and domestic travel. This year the prime exhibition event had to be shifted from its April calendar to July and now to August — due to Covid-19 lockdown measures.

The emerging threat on cashflows for the exhibitions business have prompted the company to re-strategise towards ensuring business survival and sustainable continuity in the face of unrelenting headwinds stemming from the Covid-19.

Dr Ndebele acknowledged that the Covid-19 outbreak has had as profound and unprecedented impact on the events industry at large and, the Meeting Incentives Conferences and Exhibitions (MICE) sub-sectors, as it has on commerce and society at large.

“As the industry leader, the current crisis and continued uncertainty, has taught us to partially reinvent ourselves and embrace emerging digital business models. The charge we have been given by the company board is clear. We need to transform and reposition the business to secure its survival and sustainable continuity notwithstanding the devastation brought by the pandemic,”

said Dr Ndebele.

“This hybrid platform will augment the value of our events by accommodating exhibitors, visitors and stakeholders who are unable to participate physically either because they cannot travel to the actual show or are hesitant to do so.

“Our digitisation journey as the ZITF Company began in 2020 when Mine Entra and WASHen Conferences were held virtually to allow for pertinent conversations in those sectors to proceed despite impediments imposed by the pandemic.”

Dr Ndebele said the Covid-19 experience has afforded the ZITF company opportunity to craft a Business Recovery and Continuity tactical plan that seeks to leverage the real estate in line with emerging World Health Organisation (WHO) protocols.

“As a result, assets such as exhibition halls were temporarily converted to temporary bulk storage and warehousing facilities. Similarly, in recognition of the need for sitting arrangements that allowed for social distancing protocols, the company quickly positioned itself as a safe facility for college and university examinations as well as meetings, trainings and conferences for Government departments, non-governmental organisations, and religious groups,”

he said.

“The advent of new variants such as the highly virulent Delta strain means that it continues to be difficult to fully estimate the trajectory of the pandemic and indeed the recovery and financial health of the MICE industry in general.”

Riding on the new business strategy, Dr Ndebele said ZITF would continue to navigate the exceedingly volatile, complex and ambiguous terrain, which has had adverse impact on the company’s core business and primary revenue streams.

“This is extremely important because, while our customers are apprehensive because of the pandemic, they still crave interpersonal communication, the energy, and more importantly the opportunities which live events bring,”

he said.

“Accordingly, as event organisers, our desire is to elevate our value proposition and respond to customer expectations following the Covid-19 pandemic. We thus seek to build resilience by reinventing our business models and upgrading existing events with hybrid formats.”

Dr Ndebele also stressed the need to invest in a modern convention centre as one of the key determinants for attracting international meetings.

“We will need to forge both public and private sector partnerships towards infrastructure modernisation,”

he said.

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