CMW explores how a global brand for trade, events and investment built a 50-year-old internationally respected network and is charting a fresh course for the next half century
One of the most prestigious venue and trade brands in the world is the World Trade Center (WTC). Located in more than 90 countries, they serve local business communities and act as international platforms and a global ecosystem for trade and networking.
The World Trade Centers Association (WTCA), founded in 1969, has grown to embrace 320 members and unites these venues and their 15,000 professional staff and licenses the association brand.
Having celebrated over 50 years of history, the WTCA gathered in April for its 2021 General Assembly (GA), digitally this time around, and charted a new course for further development.
The GA saw the launch of an Artificial Intelligence-powered B2B matchmaking platform. “Leveraging an algorithm, attendees can receive a list of their best matches in just a few seconds — maximising the time spent to establish networking opportunities with truly relevant people. New technology such as this will enhance our network’s ability to connect and facilitate trade for our members and their business networks,” says WTCA executive director of business development, Robin van Puyenbroeck.
The GA followed on from the WTCA’s first virtual global event, the November 2020 WTCA Member Forum, which brought together more than 300 participants from 141 WTCs across the globe. Highlights included the introduction of three new WTCA partnerships with UFI, the Global Association of the Exhibition Industry; the Global Trade Helpdesk with the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and International Trade Centre (ITC); and the United Nations Global Compact (UNGC). These organisations will expand the Association’s network of partners across various sectors and industries.
You may have seen the prestigious WTC signage around the world and attended a conference inside one of the venues, but did you know that the WTCA is in fact a not-for-profit, non-political membership organisation, the role of which is to establish and effectively govern WTC operations?
Commercial property developers, economic development agencies, and international businesses are the main target groups for membership due to the trade and investment opportunities on offer through the network.
The WTCA has exclusive rights to license its ‘World Trade Center’ brands and, as well as servicing this growing global network, acts to create an environment of collaboration among members to take advantage of the international synergies.
A WTC operation provides high-end business facilities and integrated trade services for corporate members, tenants, and the local business community and, although each WTC concept may vary due to the development needs of a specific region, the two most common components of successful WTC operations are:
1. A physical, iconic, multi-use property, branded ‘World Trade Center’ that visually marks its city/region as open for international business
2. An international business/trade services provider for tenants and the local business community. Services typically include: trade information; trade missions; B2B matchmaking; business services; dining/membership club services; conference and exhibition services and tenant services.
Through its physical presence, and its international trade services arm, a WTC connects its local businesses and tenants to those of other WTC operations and communities around the world.
The kinds of organisations that license the WTC brand include economic development bodies and ones that promote international trade and foreign direct investment. Commercial real estate developers and investors are also pivotal to the association’s licensee community.
Some of the benefits for these organisations who take up a licence include achieving higher rents (+5-30%) versus comparable non-‘WTC’ branded buildings); higher occupancy rates (6-13%); ability to attract high-profile and premium tenants; regional economic impact of a WTC property draws government and community support to the project, and, importantly for the MICE community, revenues from hosting on-site international trade events and programmes.
Impact and achievements
As an extremely diverse organisation – geographically, culturally, and professionally – WTCA members are a reflection of their communities, and the needs of their local trade and investment ecosystems. Let us look at some examples.
In Ghana, WTC Accra has brought Ghanaian small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) on 22 trade missions. These have helped Ghanaian businesses procure supplies, raise capital, expand to new markets, identify partners, and obviate the daunting prospect of going through the process alone.
According to the World Bank, doing business in Ghana is now easier than in any other West African country. Often governments will offer assistance to larger companies, but there can be critical gaps for SMEs looking abroad and that is where a WTC steps in.
“For SMEs like mine, it’s very difficult to expand beyond the borders of Ghana. WTC Accra creates a lot more opportunities,” says Jerry Afful, whose businesses include advertising, entertainment events, and real estate.
Afful traveled with WTC Accra on trade missions to Turkey and the US, succeeding on both trips to source materials needed. Prior to his first trade mission with the WTC, he travelled to China independently, which was a comparatively cumbersome and costly process.
The WTC brand has also been key to opening doors to new relationships. “They have a bigger voice that’s internationally-recognised, and they are able to connect people,” says Huudu Mesuna Deliman, CEO of Ghana’s Deliman Group, which operates in the oil, transport, and construction sectors. For Deliman, participation in trade missions has resulted in an almost 50% growth in his business.
In Paraguay, a WTC was opened in 2015. “We saw the need and the market for the kind of opportunities and benefits a WTC would bring,” said Oliva Ibañez, brand manager for WTC Asunción. The city’s corporate office spaces were decentralised and in need of an upgrade. The WTC development – which is comprised of four buildings; including two restaurants, and more than 200 offices hosting 2,184 professionals – represented the single largest private investment in the country, totalling US$77m.
WTC Asunción has become the anchor around which a new business district has developed. In just three years it has grown to feature more than 20 high rises, 12 hotels, corporate space for 5,000 offices, and nine conference centres.
In Gibraltar, the setting up of a WTC in 2017 helped address a shortage of office space. It is now a a pivotal part of the territory’s investment strategy and the WTC was 97.5% occupied at its grand opening.
“Some of our biggest customers are located in the same building as us. And it means that we don’t have to travel far. If someone calls with a problem, we can take the lift and be on their floor within five minutes,” says James Elliot, MD of tenant company NetEnt’. “Just using the name World Trade Center on your business card opens many doors,” he adds. And in its first year alone, WTC Gibraltar is calculated to have made an annual contribution of US$80m to the territory’s economy.
Istanbul, KL, Winnipeg and more…
In Turkey, Okay Başbuğ, foreign affairs deputy manager, WTC Istanbul, explains WTC Istanbul was founded in 1982. “At the WTC’s core structure, we are a company founded by public institutions of Turkey including the Istanbul Chamber of Commerce, Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality, and the Union of Chambers and Commodity Exchanges of Turkey. We mainly operate in the real estate business,” he says.
“In our 500,000sqm complex, we rent 11 exhibitions halls, consisting of 100,000sqm, and operate a business centre consisting of three towers and a shopping mall. We also have two luxury hotels and a convention centre.
“Major shows taking place at our facilities include the annual home textile show, boat show, motorbike show, and furniture show.
“We have also made a significant investment for the renovation of our exhibition halls over the past year, although, unfortunately, the Covid-19 pandemic has greatly affected our business. However, we are taking the necessary precautions and are more hopeful for this year’s calendar of events.”
In Canada, The World Trade Centre Winnipeg was founded in 2012, and president and CEO Mariette Mulaire, says it marked an important opportunity for Manitoba companies to access new trade and export opportunities, and to showcase the economic advantages of the province to the world.
“A major achievement in the early years was organising the first-ever global business-to-business forum in Manitoba’s history.” The WTC has since hosted multiple editions.
The 2016 Centrallia event attracted over 1,000 attendees from 30 countries, and featured business delegations led by 18 WTCs from around the world.
“Patrons of the conference could walk around like they would at a tradeshow,” Mulaire remembers. “They were able to see and experience what different regions could offer to clients in terms of trade, investment opportunities, and creating business connections. It was a visual and impactful illustration of the power and connectedness of the WTCA.
Hosted in the newly expanded RBC Convention Centre in downtown Winnipeg, Centrallia was an historical event for WTC Winnipeg, the venue and the province of Manitoba.
WTC Winnipeg’s team of trade advisors, extensive market research, webinars and training courses, and its Trade Accelerator Program (TAP) today can connect business owners and industry experts to create a solid export plan that can be directly applied to the current marketplace.
In Malaysia, Dato’ Sri Dr Irmohizam Ibrahim, executive director, WTC Kuala Lumpur, explains that his organisation’s history goes back to 1985.
“WTCKL has hosted some of the biggest international conferences and exhibitions, including the PATA General Conference in 1986, CHOGM Head of State Meeting (1989) and the NAM General Conference in 2003, and the International Book Festival,” he explains. “Locally, we held the MATTA Fair and the Malaysian Technology Expo. These partners are loyal customers of ours and have made WTCKL their venue of choice in holding many events.”
WTCKL is one of 90 WTCs in the Asia-Pacific region and Dr Ibrahim says it is more important now than ever, during the pandemic, that there is a continuity in staying connected and a diversification of the trading services that the centres provide.
WTCKL, like WTCs around the world, recently received a Global Helpdesk tool, an online platform that allows users to compare demand for products across markets, explore tariffs and other market access conditions, access details about buyers and navigate domestic export processes.
WTCKL has been upgrading its own technology, too, and is working on a hybrid studio for virtual conferences and shows, Dr Ibrahim notes: “In April 2021, we hosted the International Business Review ASEAN Awards here in one of our halls. Viewers were able to livestream the ceremony. Other events include the E-Sports PUBG Tournament that was held in 2019 where gamers came from across the Asia-Pacific.”
WTCKL has plans also to venture more into trading and supplying services, providing parking management, and expanding food and beverage franchises.
Dr Ibrahim also notes the WTCA has helped its Malaysian franchisee in pushing for free trade zones, which include the recent launch of the Melaka Waterfront Economic Zone Malaysia (M-WEZ).
“We treat the WTCA like family,” Dr Ibrahim concludes, “and in every family, the bonds and ties created will never be broken. Here’s to having more WTCs in the future!”
There may be over 50 years of history, but the pandemic has shown that, more than ever, a priority for the WTCA, as for many, is to make its business relevant to the new generation and restate the case to keep this premium brand shining.