Show time: Opening day
at CONEXPO Asia 2006,
held in Beijing and produced
by the Milwaukee-based
Association of Equipment Managers
There used to be little
guesswork in producing a trade show in China. In the early
1980s, Beijing barely had one adequate convention center; Shanghai
had a second. Only the China Council for the Promotion of
International Trade (CCPIT) could approve of a show proposal. If
the council granted a show license, it would collect the rental fee
and inform the organizer how many attendees to expect; thanks to
the controlling hand of the Communist Party of China, attendance
“The golden days, of course,” says a
chuckling Cherif Moujabber, who was vice president of Asia-Pacific
for Cahners Exhibitions Group in the late 1980s and now is
president of Walpole, Mass.-based Creative Expos and Conferences.
“In the old days,” he recalls, “it was very simple.”
While veterans of the trade show
industry harbor little true nostalgia for that restrictive era,
launching a show in China no longer can be described as “simple.”
In fact, most who have successfully entered the Chinese market
would describe the process as extremely difficult.
With a booming economy and a massive
population, China is considered by many to represent the future of
the trade show industry. “It is clear that the China focus of the
global event market is unstoppable,” asserts Marcus Ewals, managing
director of Thailand-based exhibition organizer AsiaCongress.
At the moment, however, the industry in
China is small and relatively immature. “It’s not much different
than it was here [in the United States] 50 years ago,” says Steven
Hacker, president of the Dallas-based International Association of
Exhibitions and Events.
Having strong relationships with the
right government contacts still can make or break a trade show. In
addition, facilities vary dramatically in quality, and even cities
with first-rate centers may lack “the infrastructure, access and
software to support the venues and provide the full spectrum of
services required to ensure a successful event,” says Warren
Buckley, CEO of Suntec Singapore and former board member of AIPC,
the International Association of Congress Centres.
The industry still is a fraction of the
size of North America’s. Lacking comprehensive data, experts
believe the number of annual exhibitions in China is in excess of
4,000, with Beijing, Guangzhou and Shanghai cornering the market.
(Compare that with 13,000 shows held in the United States.) But the
market is growing up fast. Licenses are getting easier to obtain --
Moujabber says securing one today is not an issue -- and
professionalism is on the rise, too. Of the 162 people who earned
Certified Exhibition Management designations from IAEE in 2006, 80
were from China. Modern facilities are popping up all over: In
January Hacker traveled to Kunshan, about an hour’s drive from
Shanghai, to witness construction on the mammoth China
International Purchasing Center, which will have 19 million square
feet of exhibition space.
With the country spending billions on
facilities and infrastructure for the 2008 Winter Olympics in
Beijing and the 2010 World Expo in Shanghai, China undoubtedly is
becoming an increasingly viable market for trade shows. But those
rushing to tap into the lucrative Chinese economy beware: Success
requires a long-term vision, often years of preparation and a
commitment to help industries develop in the East.