English speakers exhibition grows in stature
A trade and community fair aimed at English speaking expatriates living in Switzerland is expanding in response to growing demand for the annual event.
The Expat Expo has been praised for helping anglophone people of all nationalities settle in the country and for raising awareness of a network of societies and firms that are linked by the common language.
This year, the exhibition will be present in Basel for the first time. It will also visit Zug and the usual locations of Zurich and Geneva, where it has moved into larger premises. It is expected to attract far more than the 6-8,000 people who attended last year.
Organisers Ed and Melanie McGaugh came up with the idea for Expat Expo after joining an online business forum called SwissEntrepreneur. The couple found demand for an exhibition to promote English language companies in Switzerland.
"It gives English-speaking businesses a chance to exhibit themselves. People who come find out about the range of products available to them, such as American or British groceries," Ed McGaugh told swissinfo.
"There is not a great deal of difference between the Swiss and British societies, for example, but the language barrier can still prove an obstacle for many expatriates. Just finding a dentist who speaks English can make a big difference."
Ed also drew on his youthful experiences of globetrotting around the world to whichever country his father was working in.
"I remember my dad having a terrible time bringing people over to Bahrain. The big problem was that there was no network, so he constantly had to re-hire because it was difficult for employees to acclimatise," he said. "That memory left a lasting impression on me."
The idea has caught on to such an extent that Ed and Melanie have given up their wine import business to concentrate solely on the expo. The very first event was held in a community hall in Zurich two years ago, but interest has snowballed to such an extent that is has now moved to major exhibition centres in four cities.
"The response has been very positive and we are now attracting much more media coverage. We have tremendous momentum and we hope it continues into the future," said Ed McGaugh.
Visitors to the Expos are not just the usual anglophone suspects of British, American, Australian and South African expatriates, but people from all over the globe, from India to Brazil.
The Expat Expo can also help smaller Swiss businesses get in touch with a growing number of expatriates, according to Richard Baker, sales and marketing manager at the Swiss British Chamber of Commerce.
Many Swiss multinational companies already use the English language as common currency, but there is evidence that smaller firms are also catching on to tap into the domestic market.
"Many expatriates find it difficult to find services when they arrive because providers do not translate their products into English or explain them," Baker told swissinfo.
"But we are seeing more smaller Swiss companies that have an interest in communicating to the foreign community, and that provides great value to expatriates."
swissinfo, Matthew Allen in Zurich
The Expat Expo launched in Zurich in February 2006 and that year also visited Geneva and Zug. Zurich and Geneva also hosted the event in 2007.
The next Expo will be staged at Zurich's Kongresshaus Gartensaal on September 7 before moving to the Palexpo centre in Geneva on October 12, returning to Zug on April 26 next year and including Basel for the first time on May 17 at the city's Messe complex.
Geneva is the largest of the Expos with more than 200 exhibitors. It hopes to attract a crowd well in excess of last year's 3,000 visitors.
Exhibitors range from businesses, theatre groups, dating agencies, schools, religious organisations and expatriate societies.
swissinfo and Geneva-based World Radio Switzerland are the main sponsors of the events.
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