TBY talks to Ali Bulut, CEO of CNR Trade Fairs Group, on the expansion of CNR's facilities, the success of its fairs, and aspirations for the future.

Ali Bulut
Ali Bulut began his professional career by founding Intersonik, an industrial machinery manufacturing company, and became the Managing Director and CEO of CNR International Fairs in 1994. He left CNR in 2008 and worked for two years at Altınbaş Holding as the CEO of the Jewelry Group, before rejoining CNR as the CEO in 2010.

What is your background in the fair hosting industry?

I graduated from the Mechanical Engineering Department of the Middle East Technical University in 1985. I was the managing director of a private company for eight years before joining CNR in 1994. Since then I have worked for CNR in various positions and took up the CEO position for the second time in mid-2010 after a break from the company. The trade show business was just emerging when I joined in 1994, and so I am lucky to have seen firsthand the growth and change in the industry.

How is the expansion of your fair facilities progressing?

Four new halls with a capacity of 40,000 square meters were opened in May 2011 during the Evtex Home Textile Show. Altogether there will be 14 halls with a total of 150,000 square meters of exhibition space.

When I joined the company there was only one hall with 10,000 square meters in capacity. Development has been fast as we have had to expand to meet demand. The additional space under construction will be sufficient for the next five years, and then after that we will expand this facility further. There are no other options other than CNR to host events on this scale in Istanbul. We will continue to develop this facility as Istanbul is the one and only destination for trade and commerce shows in Turkey.

How many fairs does CNR hold annually, and how will the opening of halls 12-15 improve your ability to host events?

In 2010 we held 54 shows; less than one-third of these were third-party exhibition organizers. We will use the new halls for the expansion of existing large shows such as the home textiles, furniture, auto, and machine tools shows. With the remaining space we will develop new projects.

With Turkey positioned between huge markets in Asia, Europe, and Africa, what percentage of participants are foreign?

Foreign exhibitors can attend directly or indirectly. Indirect foreign representation through local Turkish companies constitutes around half of all our attendees. Direct foreign representation represents around 15% of exhibitors. Direct exhibitors tend to work independently for a couple of years before finding a local agent, and they then continue their presence indirectly.

The recent autoshow was opened by Foreign Trade Minister Zafer Çağlayan. Is this a good indicator of the interest of foreign auto manufacturers in the Turkish market?

Yes, our autoshow is one of the Organization of Motor Vehicle Manufacturers (OICA) accredited shows. If OICA backs a show it means that the main companies assume the role of exhibitors, not their local distributors. This means they launch new models here and display prototypes. Less than 10 shows are OICA branded around the world. Minister Cağlayan was here because automobiles are the number one Turkish export.

The local demand for passenger cars has also boomed following the crisis. In 2010 750,000 cars were sold in Turkey, which is an all-time record. The number of attendees increased 40% to 800,000 from the previous show. We also welcomed Chinese manufacturer Geely for the first time.

How do fairs like the autoshow benefit the economy?

The autoshow is different from other exhibitions as it is public orientated. Most shows are business-to-business or business-to-consumer trade shows. These shows give an indication of the level of demand in an industry.

The success of a show indicates that positive things are happening, and trade shows are useful in overcoming the psychological effects of a crisis. Just being part of a large exhibition is important for a company to show its strength. The government knows this and that is why we see keen government interest in our shows.

What makes exhibitions such an effective way for foreign companies to show off their products?

They are very useful for newcomers. At a trade show all members of a sector come together under one roof, and this eliminates a company's need to conduct research. It facilitates networking and promotes all the players in a sector. We have the opportunity to transform Istanbul into one of the main centers for trade shows. International companies keep coming to Turkey and we will see this reflected in the exhibition business. I believe that Istanbul will become one of main exhibition centers, alongside Europe and China.

How have you seen foreign interest in Turkish markets increase over your time at CNR?

Over the last 10 years there has been increased interest and demand for our exhibitions. Around half of all foreign Turkish trade is now with neighboring countries. As relations have improved in the region, Turkey has become a regional hub, and that's why so many people from areas like the Middle East come to our shows. This has been the main driver of our business over the crisis period as demand from Europe and the US dropped dramatically.

You are a member of The Union of International Fairs (UFI). How has this benefitted your company?

The UFI is a source of information and experience that brings together leading worldwide fair companies. It tells exhibitors that we have met the international requirements to host a show. It has been useful in promoting our shows to companies that may not have known about us.

What exciting fairs have you got coming up in 2011?

Our most exciting upcoming show is on construction materials, and it is the first time they will organize a show of this kind. We are also looking forward to hosting large ICT and consumer electronics shows.

What has been your personal favorite annual fair?

The home textiles fair is my favorite, as more than one-third of attendees are international. Some 15,000 international buyers attend, making it the largest by size and number of exhibiting companies. It is the second largest home textile show in the world after Frankfurt. This is CNR's biggest success story. We are also hoping to have a huge ICT show in 2012. This is a sector that will shape the future and CNR will play an important role.

The World Fair must be every fair organizers dream. Is there a chance Turkey will host one in the future?

The World Fair is my dream. I am the one who personally presented the idea to businesses and NGOs in Turkey 15 years ago. My dream was to bring it to Istanbul, but Izmir applied to host the event. Unfortunately, the city lost out to Milan. However, there is still a chance for 2020; it might be my retirement project.