Ghassan Nawfal’s 17+ years of sales and marketing experience in the event industry has been consolidated over three continents. Ghassan earned his stripes ‘getting involved in things he knows nothing about and then owning them. The past 10 years have been spent both in the public as well as the private sector in the technology, manufacturing, FMCG hospital, and construction events industries. At Hafla, as VP Growth and Corporate Experience, Ghassan injects expertise and foresight into the AI-based event ideation, planning, and booking platform. Excerpts from our chat with him:
What are the similarities between organizing a small birthday party at home and a large exhibition?
Ghassan Nawfal: Everything is an event – from small birthday parties to massive EXPO shows. So whether you are putting together a small do for little kids at home or organizing an international show involving thousands of people – the basic requirements remain exactly the same. Budget, venue, invitations, décor, catering, number of people, vendors/services, giveaways, safety measures, and finally, plan B. You’ll also need a team handling the back end and the floor at both places – at a birthday party, it’s the planner and the party host while at an exhibition it will be a few hundred people.
Why hasn’t technology played a bigger role in the event industry?
Ghassan Nawfal: Technology changes and evolves continuously, with new tools being introduced every day. In the event industry, and alive and active model is what usually works, requiring a face-to-face approach – this limits technology. We are in a peculiar situation today. In the era of the pandemic, events are looked at differently, with hybrid and virtual events now in the spotlight. These models have flipped the typical concept of how an event is executed. They also need new technologies and AI to be successful. So now technology has become indispensable to the event industry because, in the absence of choices, it has to be responsible for the increase in attendee satisfaction.
How can a marketplace like Hafla simplify the event industry?
Ghassan Nawfal: We are in the business of bringing people together. When suppliers and buyers find themselves on the same platform, it becomes easier for suppliers to understand and anticipate the requirements of their target customers. At the same time, buyers get a comprehensive idea of the available range in products and services and also the various prices they can be booked at. A platform like Hafla focuses on providing the one-stop-shop experience, simplifying the many complications of the event industry by streamlining the process from ideation to planning and booking with the help of AI.
What do the e-commerce industry and the exhibition industry have in common?
Ghassan Nawfal: Just like exhibition venues, the e-commerce industry is also based on the aggregator platform model. Both operate as one-stop shops for all things from a particular field. Suppliers and buyers are brought together in one place in a way that helps in time and cost-saving. Efficiency, variety in price, and an assortment of a range are of the essence in such models.
Why hasn’t someone else built a platform like Hafla before?
Ghassan Nawfal: Imagine how hard it must have been to bring so many products and services from different industries – together – under one platform. Giving the customer the ability to choose a venue, catering services, decor, AV equipment, services like a band or entertainer, all on the same platform! Hafla works hard at making this look simple, but in reality, the complexity of this process takes time and meticulous user-journey mapping. Hafla’s AI design is very advanced – it has been built to suggest the most cost-effective and time-efficient solutions to every customer based on their needs and priorities.
What do event organizers and event planners hate about events?
Ghassan Nawfal: Essentially, events are fun to attend but difficult to organize. I hate not being able to satisfy everyone, the fact that there are too many moving pieces, and only a limited number of things are constant and under your immediate control. What I love about events is, strangely enough, nearly the same things. Too many moving pieces means that any event becomes like a huge messy puzzle that I have to solve, and I love that! Very few constants translate into challenges that are exciting to face. And while I may not be able to satisfy everyone, I certainly manage to surprise quite a few!
Event management is difficult, why?
Ghassan Nawfal: Mildly put, event management is a challenge not everyone has the stomach for. As I mentioned earlier – the limited constants, too many loose pieces, varied personal satisfaction levels, time constraints, budgetary issues, and sometimes unreal expectations – all of these can come together beautifully under an efficient event planner. Badly handled, it can become a recipe for disaster.
Finding a good trustworthy supplier is a nightmare. How do you do it?
Ghassan Nawfal: Contacting suppliers for last-minute projects and selecting them based on product availability and cost is a fundamental mistake. That’s why we end up working with the wrong vendor and then lose trust in them for future events. At Hafla, we invest in relationships with our suppliers and build on them by meeting and discussing possible products and services for future events without any time constraints. This allows us to check product quality in advance and negotiate the best price for value.
Event costs are high, what can help reduce them?
Ghassan Nawfal: One-stop-shopping at Hafla offers the same service/product at different prices from different vendors, well-priced bundled offers, and even cheaper rates for larger quantities. Hafla, through AI technology, helps clients reduce event costs. This is done not just by offering bundles and promotions, but also by providing the best options that fit a specific event. Clients with no event experience tend to spend money on unnecessary or very expensive items because of the lack of experience. Consulting a professional is an option, but accepting one-off suggestions is based on trust. As such, the safest and best-priced deal is the one that is offered by a transparent algorithm based on an artificial intelligence designed to give you the best prices.