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Expo sector back in biz after pandemic hiatus

China Daily| Updated: September 27, 2023

Shanghai's trade, industry fairs put on impressive performance; new records achieved

The China International Industry Fair, an annual manufacturing sector gathering that had been suspended for the past two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic, was back offline from Sept 19-23 with record highs in terms of both exhibition area and the number of participating companies.

Rong Zhiqin, deputy director of the Shanghai Municipal Commission of Economy and Informatization, announced the record-high performance during a news conference in late August. Covering over 300,000 square meters, the CIIF was attended by more than 2,600 companies from 27 countries and regions, of which over 70 were Fortune Global 500 firms or industry leaders.

What made the CIIF extra special was the 50,000-sq-m area set up for robots, which was the world's biggest exhibition of its kind to date, and it attracted the largest number of industrial robot companies in one single fair, according to Rong.

The new records set at the CIIF are just one snapshot of the recovery of the expo sector in Shanghai.

According to data released by the municipal government in late July, the total exhibition area reached 7.59 million sq m in Shanghai in the first half, which was about 80 percent of the level seen in 2019, before the pandemic.

The total exhibition area of all trade and industry fairs held in Shanghai stood at 6.29 million sq m in the second quarter, up 13.1 percent from the same period in 2019. Meanwhile, six mega expos with exhibition areas of at least 100,000 sq m were held in Shanghai in June. The total exhibition area of the six shows came at 1.11 million sq m, up 42.2 percent from the figure recorded in June 2019.

Zhang Guohua, deputy director of the Shanghai Municipal Commission of Commerce, said that the city's expo sector has seen an overall recovery since the beginning of this year. The total exhibition area of all shows to be held in Shanghai in the second half is expected to be around 8.8 million sq m, approaching over 90 percent of the level in 2019.

The turnaround in Shanghai is not an isolated event.

The Guangzhou Municipal Commerce Bureau said the local exhibition industry in the Guangdong provincial capital has even exceeded pre-pandemic levels. Up to 140 expos were held in the city in the first half, 2.3 times the figure registered for the same period last year. The exhibition area of these shows totaled 5.6 million sq m, which was 1.8 times the number recorded during the first half of 2022. The total number of expo visitors spiked 8.6 times to 7.66 million.

The China Import and Expo Fair, a highly coveted event better known as the Canton Fair, marked its 133rd edition in mid-April. The fair was held offline for the first time in three years due to the pandemic. By hosting 34,933 attending companies, the exhibition area approached 1.5 million sq m, with the two figures representing new records.

The latest edition of The Canton Fair has not only seen its scale expanded and quality improved, but also its exhibition theme optimized and online and offline services better integrated, said Xu Bing, deputy director of the China Foreign Trade Center. The exhibition has made its due contribution to the high-quality development of the local economy, he said.


An aerial view of the National Exhibition and Convention Center (Shanghai), the venue for the China International Import Expo. [Photo provided to]

Likewise, Shenzhen, Guangdong province, is expected to hold 189 exhibitions this year, up 3.6 times year-on-year, according to the city's commerce bureau. The total exhibition area is expected to top over 8 million sq m, setting a record.

Recovery in the exhibition industry can be seen all over China, said Zhang Guosheng, deputy head of the Department of Trade in Services and Commercial Services at the Ministry of Commerce. Zhang was speaking during the Global Exhibition CEO Shanghai Summit 2023 in late June, an annual industry gathering that began in 2014 and which has also been held up for three years due to COVID-19.

As calculated by the ministry, up to 1,448 exhibitions were held in China in the first five months, up 6.7 times year-on-year and 4.2 percent higher than that in the same period of 2019. The number of large-scale expos, with exhibition areas of over 10,000 sq m, reached 834 in the first five months, up 23.4 percent from four years ago.

David Zhong, president of VNU Exhibitions Asia, said at the summit that strong government support and rising market demand have served as the two major engines driving the recovery of the Chinese exhibition sector so far this year. Larger exhibitions are recovering faster than smaller ones, which can be proved by the frequently refreshed records for participants and exhibition areas, Zhong said.

In late July, the municipal government of Shanghai rolled out a three-year action plan for the city's exhibition sector. Made up of 20 detailed measures, the action plan said that the total annual exhibition area in the city is expected to reach 22 million sq m by 2025, of which 80 percent will be taken up by international shows.

During the China International Fair for Trade in Services held in Beijing in early September, Qu Weixi, head of the China Convention/Exhibition/Event Society, said they will encourage companies to hold more exhibitions in smaller Chinese cities in the second half of the year to discover business opportunities lying in industries with local characteristics. Exhibition organizers will be encouraged to hold fairs overseas to better explore the international market and help Chinese exporters win more orders.

Jochen Witt, president and CEO of trade fair and conference consulting firm JWC, is also positive about the recovery of the Chinese expo sector. "Apart from China's continued economic growth, the country's huge investment in exhibition venues over the past decade, during which available expo area doubled, has laid a solid foundation for sustainable growth in the sector," he said.

The number of signature exhibitions, such as the Canton Fair, the China International Import Expo and the China International Consumer Products Expo, have served as important bridges between the Chinese and international markets, said Zhang of the Ministry of Commerce.

The huge size of the Chinese market is another advantage that the expo sector should better make use of to link production and consumption, and attract resources from all over the world. In this way, the overall quality of trade and investment between China and overseas entities can be further improved, said Zhang.

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