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February 11, 2007


Very few people would claim that the exhibitions industry in the UK is not having a tough time at the moment. Sure, there are a number of events that are performing well, particularly the new breed of exhibition that bridges the consumer/trade gap and offers innovative experiential elements to entice and engage visitors. However, overall attendance levels are in decline. But the same cannot be said for Asia, and China in particular.

The Trade Fair Industry in Asia – a report by global events association UFI – reveals that the overall Asian exhibitions market grew more than 12% in 2005 in terms of actual space sold by organisers. Exhibition sales topped 10 million square metres with China leading the way, accounting for almost 40% of space sales in the region.

Commenting on the phenomenon, Paul Woodward, UFI managing director Asia/Pacific, says: “In Asia, face-to-face communication is growing on the back of economic growth and on the important trends of shifting production into Asian countries, such as China, Vietnam and India. Getting face-to-face with your customers has always been important in international trade and that is particularly true when you’re doing business in challenging developing markets.”

Way of the dragon
Focusing specifically on China, Jime Essink, chief executive officer and chairman of VNU Exhibitions Asia, explains: “In China, exhibitions are even more important as a marketing, promotion and sales tool than in the Western World because of a number of factors. These include the transparency of the market, the many changes and new players, the need for the transfer of know how, the lack of substitute media (no professional trade magazines, databases, etc), and the importance of face-to-face contact in Chinese culture.”

Ruowei Chen, president of the China Association for Exhibition Centres (CAEC), agrees, adding: “In a country like China, people are more used to face-to-face communication. We have a saying: ‘Seeing is believing’, so it’s no surprise that exhibitions have obviously become more important.

“The brand show Auto China 2004 in Beijing, for example, attracted more than 400,000 visitors,” he continues. “As China is the largest potential market for car manufacturing, all the major car manufacturers took the opportunity to promote their products, concepts and technology. Since cars have such close relations with affluence in a country like China, car shows are pretty much guaranteed a high number of visitors.

“In the less economically developed city of Naning in southwest China, I saw thousands of people pour into the last day of the 1st ASEAN Trade Fair, which had been opened to the public. Traffic was at a standstill and people went along not specifically to visit the show, but also to experience a great festival, admire the architecture of the new venue and soak up the atmosphere, as well as look at the splendid international and domestic exhibits.”

Results driven
Of course, the key to a successful exhibition industry in China is delivering results for exhibitors, just as it is anywhere else in the world. To ensure this, organisers and exhibitors have to do their utmost to create an inspiring visitor experience. So gone are the days when an organiser’s role was simply to sell floor space.

It also helps to keep the companies involved not only during the show, but also throughout the intervening year. “At CMP Asia we have seen very good growth in our website hits from around the globe to create a continuous information flow for each show,” says the company’s senior vice president Michael Duck. “This way both the visitor and exhibitor feel that the show is giving them information on both trends and client link up. Without this access to clients, the intervening period is a lost sales opportunity.”

Duck is also keen to highlight how visitors’ are changing and how organisers need to respond. “Due to increasing time and budgetary constraints, visitors are looking for shorter show days, so three-day events are becoming the norm now,” he points out. “This means that visitors need to target client visits often well in advance of the shows. Some websites are now being used as meeting organisers.”

Exhibitors are also under more financial pressure to make sure their exhibitions campaigns deliver the right level of return on investment.

The signs are that both visitor and exhibitor expectations will continue to increase across the global exhibition industry and it’s down to organisers to rise to the challenge. However, in China, out of all emerging and developed economies, the change to the exhibition industry over the next 10 years is likely to be the most startling.

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