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Industry exhibits good health

CATHY Cao, a local woman working for an exhibition company in Shanghai, has been trying hard to cope with her tough job. All year round, Cao, as a public relations director, is caught in endless cycles of meeting clients, coordinating events, setting everything up for an exhibition and then taking it down.

"The preparation work before each exhibition can drive people mad. You have to build everything in a mere three days," she said. "And when you meet some large companies which have a lot of requirements, you sometimes don't have time for lunch - or sleep."

"But when an exhibition is over, the sense of achievement makes you feel all the effort was worthwhile," she added.

The combined efforts of thousands of people like Cao have helped create Shanghai's robust exhibition industry, where one can find almost everything from fruit and clothes to the most advanced robots and cars.

Since the 2010 World Expo, Shanghai has taken a great step forward as a home for exhibitions. Its growing fame, its experience to cope with large audiences and the investment in its infrastructure have raised the city's capability to host large exhibitions.

The future looks bright for Shanghai's exhibition industry.

Shanghai has a total indoor exhibition area of 268,000 square meters, making it one of China's largest exhibition centers.

In addition to revenue generated from hosting exhibitions, the industry has also boosted relevant sectors such as road construction, traffic, advertising, financial services, retail, hotels and restaurants.

According to a report co-released by the Shanghai Convention and Exhibition Industry Association, every yuan (15 US cents) directly earned through exhibitions would generate 9.3 yuan for relevant industries due to the large number of visitors and logistics demands brought by the exhibitions.

Shanghai's exhibition industry earned around 13 billion yuan last year, making its contribution to Shanghai's economy more than 100 billion yuan, the association said.

"Exhibitions are the accelerator of the local economy," said Gong Weigang, secretary-general of the association. "They also help establish Shanghai's position as a trading center of China."

The major strategies for the development of Shanghai's exhibition industry in the next stage will be going global and going big.

Shanghai aims to double the size of its exhibition industry to 15 million square meters by 2015, and devote 80 percent of the area to hosting international fairs, according to the city's Five-Year Plan (2011-2015) for the exhibition industry.

It plans to attract foreign exhibitors with supportive policies and eventually increase the percentage of international exhibitors to 30 percent in the next five years.

But as people eye ambitious targets, they are also concerned about the problems of the industry.

Space, above all, is probably the easiest to solve.

The largest exhibition center in Shanghai, Shanghai New International Expo Center, has an indoor area of 150,000 square meters, and it will expand to around 200,000 square meters by the end of this year. According to Gong, such size is not enough to host large-scale exhibitions such as automobile and aircraft events.

China's Ministry of Commerce has approved plans to invest 23 billion yuan to build the world's largest expo center in Hongqiao commercial hub.

Construction will begin in Qingpu District by the end of the year, said Ye Ming, deputy director of Bureau of Planning and Land Resources of the district. Work on the 500,000-square-meter complex should take two years.

"The Hongqiao hub would be supplementary to the current exhibition halls in the city," Gong said. "And its size will be gradually increased to see whether we do need that much space."

But the problems of bureaucracy seem more difficult to solve.

"If you want to organize an education fair, you talk to the education department. If it's an industrial fair, you should go to another department. Issues such as exhibition safety and transportation are separately overseen by different government bodies, and if you want to add forums and training courses to the exhibition, that could lead to a lot more work," Gong said. "All of these have made the processes complicated and sometimes confusing."

The Shanghai Convention and Exhibition Industries Association was initiated by the government in 2002, and now acts as an agency and coordinating body of the exhibitions in Shanghai. But as an industry association, it cannot replace the governmental executives.

"The role of the industrial association is to regulate corporation behavior and guide industrial development from within, but it has no qualification to enforce laws," said Guo Jurong, an associate professor with Antai College of Economics and Management of Shanghai Jiao Tong University. "It's the government's responsibility to balance the exhibition industry and other aspects of economic development, and create a fair environment for competition."

Another challenge facing the industry is the global recession.

In the first half of 2009 when the economy was at its ebb as a result of the 2008 financial crisis, visitors to exhibitions at Shanghai New International Expo Center dropped 10 percent.

"The number of exhibitors did not change much but a drop in the audience would harm the attitude of companies," said Charles Pan, the center's marketing officer. "But luckily audience numbers rebounded to the pre-crisis level in 2010."

Gong was also cautious about a recession, but he remained optimistic about the country's measures to boost domestic consumption.

"Shanghai has performed well during the financial crisis because of China's robust economy," Gong said. "Damage can be expected if a crisis of similar severity hit the world again. But at this stage, we see that recovery is on the way." The earthquake's effect on exhibitions

This month's 9.0-magnitude earthquake in Japan may have some impact on Shanghai's exhibitions for exporters and several sectors such as automobile and electronics due to a drop in supply and demand in Japan, but the impact would be limited, industry people said.

"Companies seeking exhibitions in Shanghai come from all over the world, and most of them are based or have their branches in China. A problem with a single country would not have a great impact on Shanghai's exhibition industry," said Gong Weigang, secretary-general of Shanghai Convention and Exhibition Industries Association.

But he mentioned that some sectors, such as automobile and electronics, which depend heavily on Japan's domestic production, would "have problems."

He said he also expected a drop in Japanese buyers and sellers at trade exhibitions. But since the East China Fair already took place two weeks ago, he said the impact for other fairs would not amount to large losses.

Meanwhile, some said there could be more opportunities for Shanghai's exhibition industry when more companies turn their attention away from Japan.

"Some Chinese companies which previously focused on the Japanese market may shift their attention to the domestic ones," said Cao Yujing, media officer with Messe Frankfurt Shanghai, a branch of the world's largest trade fair organizers.

She said some companies, mainly in the cosmetic and furniture industries, which originally planned to hold exhibitions in Japan this summer, are hesitating as they are concerned about the nuclear radiation and reconstruction following the earthquake.

"Chinese exporters have already learned to balance their business on different markets since the 2008 financial crisis that hit the Western world," Cao said. "They know how to adapt."


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