As the commercial community struggles to exit the economic slowdown, the last thing it needs is a dissipation of marketing energy. The announcement that a new company has been formed to offer trade fair facilities to retailers, wholesalers and service providers raises questions about what constitutes the right kind of competition and the timing of the initiative.

Consumption is an important motor of the Maltese economy, even if it can never substitute the export-oriented sector that is so vital in an open economy like ours. The marketing of goods and services, mainly for domestic consumption, is crucial to keep the demand for such commodities buoyant. This is especially relevant at a time when the export sector is stalling under the pressures of a worldwide recession.

The annual trade fair and other smaller fairs held throughout the year, are important tools ensuring that the local supply of goods and services is advertised effectively to consumers. Traditionally, such trade fairs were held predominantly in the Naxxar Fair Grounds but, in 2007, a move was made to the Malta Fairs and Convention Centre in Ta' Qali.

For many consumers, such fairs were an ideal opportunity to shop around for items of value under one roof, where a comparative analysis of what was on offer often resulted in good deals being made, to the benefit of both buyer and seller.

The setting up of a rival organisation to offer practically identical trade fair facilities at such a critical time could possibly jeopardise the existing fruitful synergy between the commercial community and consumers. Potential exhibitors will have to decide in which fair they should participate, especially if the events are held contemporaneously or even close to each other. Consumers too are likely to have to decide what to do.

If exhibitors participate in both fairs to reach all visitors, they will have to bear in mind the extra expenses they will have to incur. If they only participate in one fair, they may risk missing a good number of potential customers because it is unlikely that all consumers would visit all fairs.

This makes little business sense. One should, therefore, not rush in describing the duplication of trade fair facilities as a positive development. For it could result in the wrong kind of competition that risks leading to a waste of resources at a time when both the commercial community and consumers need to preserve such resources.

It may still be too early to say that this alternative trade fair activity will in fact take off.

The Naxxar local council is objecting that the trade fair should return to the locality, citing traffic congestion, parking problems and pollution.

It says it was neither informed nor consulted about the new plans, adding that the negative impact on the residents of Naxxar was not taken into consideration.

But, apart from this planning issue, the whole rationale of two rival organisations competing to obtain the custom of a financially hard-pressed commercial community (and an even more hard-pressed consumer community) needs to be re-examined, certainly at this point in time.

Whatever reasons that may be keeping the two trade fair organisers from cooperating, the interests of the commercial community and of consumers can best be safeguarded through the rationalisation of scarce resources.

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