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Expos back in business across nation

Participation in key trade fairs, display spaces both exceed pre-pandemic levels of 2019

By ZHENG YIRAN in Beijing and TANG YING in Nanchang | China Daily | Updated: 2024-02-21 09:37

Visitors learn about a product during the first China International Supply Chain Expo in Beijing in November. CAI XIANGXIN/XINHUA

Ying Xiuzhen, a 75-year-old entrepreneur from Ningbo, Zhejiang province, has led her team to participate in expos ever since 1973. For her, the exhibition economy means a great deal.

"As a participant in the foreign trade industry, from 1973 till this year, I never missed a single China Import and Export Fair, even during the SARS period. Exhibitions help me know about the world, and most of our export orders were signed during expos," she said.

China's exhibition sector is on a quick growth track, as indicated by the increased number of such events, larger exhibition areas and more enterprise participation from both home and abroad.

According to the annual report on China's exhibition industry released by the China Council for the Promotion of International Trade, in 2023, China's economic and trade expos resumed to levels seen before the COVID-19 pandemic, with the number of economic and trade expos surging 117.1 percent year-on-year to 3,923. The number was 10.6 percent higher than the level in 2019.

The total exhibition area of such expos was 141 million square meters, 153.3 percent and 8.25 percent higher than the levels in 2022 and 2019, respectively.

Meanwhile, according to the report, enterprises have begun to venture overseas again to participate in expos and boost their market share.

Li Qingshuang, vice-chairwoman of the CCPIT, said: "The exhibition industry connects production with consumption, as well as supply with demand. It is an important platform for building a modern market system and an open economic system, and an important link in maintaining the stability and smoothness of global industrial and supply chains. It has become an important driving force for industry development and consumption upgrade."

Ying, president of China-Base Ningbo Foreign Trade Co Ltd, recalled the time when she took part in an exhibition in the 1990s.

"Back in the 1990s, factories did not have import and export operation rights. When we were off the plane from the China Import and Export Fair, right after the plane stopped at the airport in Ningbo, numerous factory directors were waiting for us, asking whether we got the orders and the number of the orders," she said.

"Now, with the three-year pandemic behind us, we are able to participate in exhibitions online. Using technologies, exhibitors can demonstrate whatever they want to demonstrate. For example, using real-time rendering technology, when a customer wants a bicycle but does not like the seat, we can adjust immediately. If he does not like the color of the handlebar, it is also adjustable. For a clothing company, they use artificial intelligence digital models, wearing different kinds of clothes to strut along catwalks. The color, style and texture of the clothing are all alterable," Ying said.

Data from the CCPIT showed that as of Jan 9, more than 4,000 exhibitors had been applying AI, virtual reality and augmented reality in exhibitions. With the empowerment of technology and the resumption of offline exhibitions after the pandemic, the expo economy has resumed fast-track growth.

With China having successfully adjusted its contagion prevention and control measures, an increasing number of enterprises are going abroad to participate in expos. On Jan 11, 2024, Domotex Hannover kicked off in Germany. Nearly 30 enterprises from Huzhou, Zhejiang province, participated in the expo with their best floor-covering products, to vie for the first batch of customers of the year.

Shen Weinan, from the foreign trade department of the Huzhou Municipal Bureau of Commerce, said: "For this year's expo, Huzhou enterprises set up an exhibition area of over 760 square meters. Their products mainly include wooden flooring, wood plastic materials, bamboo and wood products, and artificial turf. Enterprises are offered subsidies of 70 percent of booth fees from the government."

2024 Heimtextil Frankfurt, which opened on Jan 10 in Germany, also attracted a great number of Chinese enterprises.

Fei Zhongfu, chairman of Rayri Hometextile (Jiaxing) Co Ltd, said: "Participating in overseas expos is the right choice, helping us actively integrate into global industrial and supply chains, and win orders. We have made updates to the fabrics and styles of the products exhibited this time, highlighting their comfort level. After the expo, we will fly right away to Cologne, to participate in the 2024 iMM Cologne."

Foreign participants check out gift items and other novelties during the China Import and Export Fair, also known as the Canton Fair, in Guangzhou, Guangdong province, in October. LU HANXIN/XINHUA

According to the report from CCPIT, regions including Beijing, Tianjin, Hebei province, the Yangtze River Delta and the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area are the hottest spots for exhibitions, taking up 57.35 percent of the national total in terms of the number and 63.27 percent of the national total in terms of exhibition area last year. In terms of featured industries, industrial and technology exhibitions ranked first among all in both the number and area of expos.

Another trend, according to the CCPIT, was that national-level expos-such as the China International Import Expo, the China Import and Export Fair and the China International Consumer Products Expo — have boosted the recovery of the overall exhibition industry.

Specifically, the first China International Supply Chain Expo, as the first national-level supply chain-themed expo in the world, was held between Nov 28 and Dec 2. The expo built a new open platform for the global business community to strengthen industrial and supply chain exchanges and cooperation. The number of visitors reached 150,000, with over 80,000 buyers and professional visitors. Among 515 exhibitors, there were 53 Fortune Global 500 companies and 57 Fortune China 500 companies.

Meanwhile, the report showed that the actual number and utilization rate of exhibition halls have significantly increased. In 2023, the number of exhibition halls that were actually put into use totaled 194, 58 more than the level in 2022 and 21 more than the level in 2019, setting a record high. In addition, the utilization efficiency of large exhibition halls has significantly improved. In 2023, a total of 40 exhibition halls held 30 or more exhibitions, up 122.22 percent on a year-on-year basis.

Lin Shunjie, Party secretary and board chairman of Beijing-based China International Exhibition Center Group, said: "To better position themselves in the global supply chain and take advantage of the exhibition economy, Chinese enterprises should think of what they can do in global industrial and supply chains, identify bottlenecks, enrich themselves and improve the quality of products and services. With the reshuffle of industries during the three-year pandemic, Chinese enterprises are expected to play a better role in strengthening international supply chain cooperation and take part in global trade."

According to the CCPIT, in 2024, the expo industry will continue to play an important role in economic recovery, and the international influence of China's exhibitions will continue to expand. The trend of specialization and differentiation in the exhibition industry will become increasingly prominent.

The pace of China's exhibition industry going global will be further accelerated, and the standardization level of the industry will be further improved. Furthermore, technological progress will promote the accelerated transformation and upgrading of expos, said CCPIT's report.

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