Trade Show Survival Stories: Nairobi

Rachel Ng

In the trade show world, dealing with challenges is second nature. But very occasionally those challenges can take on a whole new magnitude.

The exhibition hall was a chaotic scene – packed with exhibitors and workers struggling to get their materials through a single freight doorway.

Back in 1986, two of our people – a young project manager and a carpenter (one of whom was destined to become a very senior CDI World figure), were making their way to Nairobi, Kenya to oversee the installation of a trade show exhibit for Fujitsu.

These were turbulent times for air passengers with many indirect flights and security levels that by today’s standards were astonishingly minimal. It was when their flight, Pan Am 73, was hijacked during a scheduled stopover at Karachi, that our team realized more important things than exhibitions were at stake.

The tragic outcome of the hijacking has been well documented and it’s certainly not our place to re-report it here. It’s sufficient to say that our guys survived this terrible event and we give our heartfelt thanks for that.

But the story isn’t over. Despite their ordeal, the two were determined to see the job through. Stranded for three days without accommodation in Karachi, they finally managed to get on a flight to Nairobi where a set of fresh challenges awaited them. 

The first of these was the non-arrival of the crated exhibition components from our manufacturing facility in Singapore. This meant chasing the freight-forwarder at the airport for days until the kit eventually turned up in three separate consignments on three different planes.    

With no mechanical lifting gear available, each time a flight arrived, the heavy crate had to be manually offloaded and hefted onto a truck for transport to the show venue.

The exhibition hall was a chaotic scene – packed with exhibitors and workers struggling to get their materials through a single freight doorway. Access was made even worse by very narrow walkways that made getting the components to the show space a torturous process.

Aside from some unskilled assistance, the installation work was completed entirely by our two stalwarts who erected partition walls, finished furniture, wired electrics, fixed graphic panels and laid carpet.

And so, having put such effort into getting the booth ready, it came as quite a shock when the show organizers instructed them to reduce its height.

Despite the installation following the show guidelines precisely, a nearby exhibitor had complained it was blocking theirs. This was a problem because much of the structure was metal and difficult to modify on-site with limited equipment.

There was a further headache – the city was subject to a curfew that meant all work had to stop by 6pm, with strict penalties for those unwise enough to break the rules.            

Once again, our persistent two-man crew were not to be beaten and somehow, against all the odds, managed to complete the project for Fujitsu on time for the show opening. While challenges of this intensity are thankfully rare, having people on your team with the determination to overcome obstacles of almost any kind is a big asset – especially if your business happens to be trade exhibitions.

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